The visual companion to the album of the same name, this rock ‘n’ roll party aims to pay tribute to the late guitarist and innovator Les Paul in the best possible way. On what would have been Paul’s 95th birthday Beck and the Imelda May Band do not treat the intimate crowd with rambling speeches. Instead, they perform a set that journeys through the early days of rock and includes numbers that Paul made famous with his wife, Mary Ford, on an instrument that he revolutionized.
Filmed at the Iridium Jazz Club, where Paul played a weekly gig, the 90-minute show, and its inclusion of seven bonus songs on the DVD, is more fully-developed than the (still worthwhile) album. It finds the overjoyed Beck playing this material in front of a tightly-packed, celeb-filled crowd including Warren Haynes, David Bowie, Kirk Hammett, Steve Miller, Little Steven and Paul Shaffer with equal amounts of flash and focus.
Although the packaging is credited to the world’s greatest guitarist, the result is a starmaking turn for vocalist May on torch songs and barnburners. She demonstrates Paul’s invention of multi-tracking by singing live along with a backing track of her voice on seven tracks. “Sitting on Top of the World” and “Tiger Rag” uses it to best effect.
Credit must also go to Darrel Higham who has the pipes of an early Elvis mixed with a touch of Eddie Cochran, and proves his worth when he takes his turn singing lead. He also has a marvelous duet with his wife, May, on “Casting My Spell On You.”
The spotlight’s also shared with special guests Trombone Shorty, Gary U.S. Bonds and Brian Setzer.
As for Beck, the same spirit he showed on 1993’s rockabilly album “Crazy Legs;” runs through this set. He even returns “Train Kept A Rollin’” to its pre-Yardbirds rockabilly roots. Here, it illuminates how Paul’s legendary status influenced Beck’s precise playing. Occasionally, as he does on “Mockin’ Bird Hill” and “I’m a Fool to Care,” he straddles his guitar slinger instincts with what’s needed for the song, combining his style within the context of the stripped down surroundings. By the time his familiar stinging tone cries out on “Peter Gunn” and “(Remember) Walking in the Sand” we’ve been schooled enough to appreciate the legacy of Paul, and celebrate what once was and what it has become.
Unlike the advance disc I received for reviewing purposes in “Relix,” the final product does contain bonus material. Besides an interview with Beck and behind the scenes footage , there’s a great scene of Paul playing and instructing a young and enthusiastic crowd about his Black Box which he invented to enable looping of instruments to create an “orchestra” of his own making. As he displays each part of his “band,” it’s a joy for all to watch him perform “How High the Moon.” A perfect ending to a solid tribute.