By Chyrisse Tabone, Tampa Correspondent
Venue: Mid-Florida Amphitheatre, Tampa, Florida—Stars Align Tour-Jeff Beck, Paul Rodgers, Ann Wilson with Deborah Bonham-August 26, 2018
When I heard that Jeff Beck, Paul Rodgers, and Ann Wilson were appearing together in the Stars Align tour, I was thanking the stars and planets that this superstar event was happening—and coming to Tampa, Florida. Jeff Beck is the supreme gold standard when any musician discusses the best of the best guitarists—eight Grammy awards and inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame—twice! And without a doubt, Paul Rodgers is the #1 male vocalist on the planet today! I have been following him since his Bad Company and The Firm days (OK…I am too young for Free, but everybody knows “All Right Now”). Ann Wilson is the #1 female vocalist today, a pioneering female rocker with Heart, and now a very successful solo career. This was my 70s-self dream ticket!
So, after months and months of counting the days, the Sunday evening had arrived—and dark clouds were hovering above the Mid-Florida Credit Union Amphitheatre. I feared a thunder and lightning storm, which is often too common in the summer, which could delay the concert. The Tampa concert was the last of the tour—and anything could happen. Impromptu walk-ons or perhaps duets? The excitement was building as I peered around the stadium which looked like I time-traveled back to the 70s, gazing upon many long-haired men, beards, flip flops, scruffy t-shirts, and denim short-shorts.
At approximately 6:35 p.m., Deborah Bonham, sister to the late John Bonham, walked out on stage wearing a flowing blue and white crochet vest and scarf, shaking her blond locks, and grabbing the microphone. She was accompanied by Ian Hatton on guitar. I really enjoyed her bluesy voice, which went from smooth and silky to a powerful and raspy nuance. I thought, “Wow! The Bonham family—John, Jason, Deborah–has a lot of great musicians!” Notable songs were “Fly” from her album Spirit and “No Angel” from The Old Hyde.
The weather was starting to rain at this point and I feared there would be a delay in the concert schedule, but fortunately it did not stop the Stars Align Tour. Ann Wilson came on stage looking stunning in a satin pink tunic over a black slip skirt. Her voice is just as perfect as it ever was—and then some! The power, emotion, and tone never ceased to amaze me as she belted out Heart’s “Barracuda” but also paid homage to many greats we lost in recent years like Aretha Franklin, Glenn Frey and Amy Winehouse. She played some of her favorite covers like “You Don’t Own Me”, which is featured on her upcoming album Immortal, to be released on September 14th. Wilson noted that she is now a Floridian, having moved to the Jacksonville area, and was glad everybody made it out to the concert. She ended with a bang singing The Who classic “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which is the perfect song for this primary election week!
Ah! Finally, Jeff Beck walked out on the stage with his Olympic white Fender Stratocaster which features a reverse headstock. He was wearing black pants, a black vest with a rattlesnake emblem, and a white sleeveless shirt which showed off his well-toned arms. A rhinestone cuff on his right-hand wrist, which glittered as he stroked the metal guitar strings. His dark brown hair was coiffed in his signature shaggy cut and his look was topped off with silver-rimmed black shades.
Beck started the set off with “Pull It” and followed with “Stratus”. Another stand-out was the 50s-style Lonnie Mack cover “Lonnie on the Move”. As I was watching the concert, I immediately noticed the high quality and tightness of Jeff Beck’s supporting band—they are all the cream of the crop musicians in the business. I absolutely adored watching Rhonda Smith on the bass, who was constantly smiling and looking over at Beck. Master drummer Vinnie Colaiuta played his heart out and cellist Vanessa Frebairn-Smith mesmerized with her versatility between classical-based music (“Mná na h-Éireann”) and rock music. Beck walked around the stage, looking at Colaiuta, and trading glances with Smith, as if he was unaware an audience was behind him. Watching him interact with the musicians made me think of jazz maestro John McLaughlin and his band. In fact, Beck played “You Know You Know” by Mahavishnu Orchestra during the evening, which was a pleasure to hear.
I sat there in my seat, spellbound, and was totally absorbed in the music. Whenever I hear Jeff Beck, tears come to my eyes—it is something I cannot explain. Listening to “Little Wing” and “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” just brings tears to my eyes. I looked around and during the “lovers” song people were snuggling and the guy in front of me was giving his wife a head massage. There’s something about Beck’s music that makes people feel romantic!
I am always amazed to see Beck play the guitar with his bare fingers, nimbly caressing the strings, and creating that signature unearthly tone his is famous for. Honestly, the man is from another planet!
Some of my personal favorite moments were when Jimmy Hall sang on “Just for Fun” and “Little Wing.” Beck’s renditions of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and The Beatles’ “Day in the Life” were sheer utter joy. Simply moving and brilliant.
And the evening would have been satisfying if it ended here, but no, it was utterly over the top when Paul Rodgers and his band Free Spirt, appeared and played a lot of songs by Free and Bad Company. Paul came out on stage wearing a white t-shirt, black pants, and adorned with silver bracelets and beaded chains. The full moon was shining on Paul Rodgers as he played “Can’t Get Enough” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love” to an audience that was cheering and arm-raising. He introduced my favorite song “Ready For Love” saying, “Here is a Mick’s song. He’s doing O.K.” I noticed couples slow-dancing, gazing into each other’s eyes, and people mouthing the lyrics. Again, romance was in the air!
Another highlight was Free’s funky blues song “Mr. Big” and Bad Company’s “Shooting Star.” Rodger’s voice is absolutely stellar and perfect, unlike any other live performer, and especially shone on “Woman.” His voice is otherworldly and without all the bells and whistles pop artists today feel compelled to use. Pure natural talent!
Overall, the evening was absolutely brilliant as the stars truly aligned and the moon shone full. Mercury retrograde is long gone and only positive vibrations were in full force this Sunday evening. I wonder if the stars will align again in the future? It was truly a memorable evening!