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MUSIC REVIEW

Jeff Beck is still one with his guitar

STEPHEN LOVEKIN/GETTY IMAGESJeff Beck (shown in Cleveland last week) brought a trio to Boston. STEPHEN LOVEKIN/GETTY IMAGESJeff Beck (shown in Cleveland last week) brought a trio to Boston. (STEPHEN LOVEKIN/GETTY IMAGES)
By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / April 15, 2009
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Jeff Beck barely said more than a dozen words to the audience during his 80-minute instrumental set at the House of Blues Monday night. But as usual, his signature Stratocaster electric guitar - as lyrical, loud, and audaciously inventive as ever - spoke eloquent volumes.

After more than 40 years and countless stylistic permutations, the British guitar god remains, at age 64, one of rock's most iconoclastic musicians, with an offhanded yet indelible flair for the extraordinary. Supported by a lissome trio composed of Tal Wilkenfeld on bass, Jason Rebello on keyboards, and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Beck did what he's always done: surprise, tantalize, amaze, and confound just about everyone's expectations - except, that is, his own.

Looking like a renegade toreador in leather black pants tucked into high-heeled boots, and wearing a sleeveless T-shirt, vest, and the same jet-black rooster shag he's sported since 1966 (the haircut's just about the only thing about Beck that never changes), he opened with the regal evergreen, "Beck's Bolero." Within moments, he sent the arrangement flying in a flashy display of virtuoso showmanship, subverting the composition's crisp, martial beat with an anarchic series of pealing squeals, rhythmic slashes, darting runs, and harmonic detours.

The exquisite, Eastern-tinged "Nadia," nestled deep inside the set, was exotic in its delicacy, with a gorgeous melody and percussive groove at once cerebral and soulful. From there, Beck veered toward rockier territories with "Brush With the Blues," a nod to Beck's early days of heavy bluster that swerved from savagely unhinged to fiercely focused. On the surface, they seemed antithetical impulses. But in Beck's hands, they made satisfying sense.

Despite Beck's recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, being a preserved-in-amber statue has never suited him. Even the guitarist's covers of pop chestnuts - a playful encore reading of Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn Theme" closed Monday's show - were anything but rote. His contemplative take on the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" captured much, if not all, of the original's sense of elegiac rumination. Beck built the crescendo with what sounded like a thousand guitars - until you realized it was just Beck and his one instrument. Like that famous Beatles line about love, it was all he needed.

JEFF BECK At: House of Blues, Monday