Toad's on the Deck
Saturday, June 18
Whoever decided that Beck was an exhausted commodity once "Loser" started to slide off the charts apparently neglected to tell the 750 or so barely clothed pubescents who lined the terrace-style bunker of Toad's Saturday night. The kids were out in all their summer finery, which meant lots of skin, and if they seemed more interested in maintaining a steady chatter than in listening to the post-Dylan ramblings of the boy-man they paid to see, it wasn't particularly hard to blame them.
Beck and his three-piece touring band did manage to expose the kids to the punk rock noise and pure folkie musings that are representative of his prodigious output, but the presentation was so half-hearted that it wasn't likely to convince anyone that Beck is anything more than a one-hit wonder. When he finally rolled out "Loser" to a sustained cheer, even that was lacking. The slide-guitar riff heard 'round the world came off a pre-recorded tape, and the guitarist mimed it with his instrument slung on backwards. Beck, for his part, slurred a chorus that sounded like "I'm a softie, baby, so why don't you fuck me."
Accusing Beck of unprofessionalism is beside the point, since he has denied career aspirations ever since anyone cared enough to ask. But if professionalism wasn't the lack that mattered, something important was missing. Maybe it was the four-track intimacy of his recordings that got lost in the crowd, or maybe the crowd itself that got lost in the crappy mix. And just maybe it was Beck's untenable position of trying so hard not to care in front of so many people.
-- Brad Tyer
The Harry Sheppard Fusion Band
Wednesday, June 22
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Harry Sheppard's manic vibes-playing has long anchored a broad range of jazz settings, from big band to middle-of-the-road contemporary to uncharted fusion territory -- the main ground of last Wednesday's performance. Both sets consisted of amply stretched selections from Sheppard's Viva Brasil and This-a-Way, That-a-Way.
In his fusion mode, Sheppard lays to rest all prejudices against the vibes and its nostalgic practitioners. While Sheppard's tunes often start simply enough, building on a straightforward, hopping three-chord melody, he and his group gradually arrive at far-off places. Sheppard, who admits he sneaked away from his early big-band gigs to watch Jimi Hendrix, literally bounces off his vibes from the pounding force of his solos. The effects on his customized boards can startle the unacquainted listener: from rich, fast, drum-like rolling chords to finely attenuated, humming guitarish riffs to a fat, funky reverbed sound -- an orchestra of vibes sets afoot.
Sheppard's hard-driving chords are often shadowed and keyed up by Jeff Gleason's steel drums, which, along with Bob Chadwick's flute playing, set the tone for the Latin-inflected numbers. The frequently paired rhythm section of Todd Harrison on drums and Erin Wright on electric bass took off on the fusion grooves, and Mike Sunjka's versatile guitar easily glided between harmonic colorings and samba-style picking.
-- Bill Levine