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(Above: Rodrigo y Gabriela bring their main set at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Mo., to a joyous end with “Humana.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

About a third of the way through her set on Friday night, Gabriela Quintero explained her pact with the Uptown Theater crowd. She and Rodrigo Sanchez promised to play only acoustic guitars if the audience let the pair play whatever they wanted.

The audience in the crowded theater responded enthusiastically to almost everything thrown at it in the 100-minute set. The rapt attention the acoustic instrumental music commanded spoke to the pair’s skill and ingenuity.

The music was a mixture of Mexican, Irish, African, metal and folk, leading to another of Quintero’s maxims: They don’t label their music because then they’d be trapped playing to that label. With no classification, they can — and do — play anything.

Rodrigo y Gabriela started performing together in their native Mexico in the late ’90s. By the new millennium, the pair had relocated to Dublin and caught the eye of Damien Rice and David Gray. Their first album came out in 2002. In the dozen years since, they have released an album almost yearly, alternating studio material with live albums.

rygFriday’s performance touched on many of those albums and also previewed material slated for release next year. With no new album since 2012’s “Area 52,” Sanchez admitted there wasn’t really a reason for the duo to be touring. They just wanted to play.

While both guitarists are virtuosos, Quintero displayed an especially strong right hand. Viciously strumming without a pick, she summoned a plethora of textures and rhythms. Often treating her guitar like a percussive instrument, she was easily able to generate as much kick as a bass drum. Quintero’s skill with a wah pedal also added to her arsenal.

Against this backdrop, Sanchez showed amazing dexterity with his left hand, lacing songs with intricate riffs and solos. Sanchez also wasn’t shy about showing off his metal roots. He tossed Metallica riffs between songs a few times, and threw in some Megadeth for good measure. A full cover of Metallica’s “Orion” showed why the pair have earned the respect of their metal heroes. A right-turn cover of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” generated the biggest applause of the night.

The sound was immaculate. Both instruments were close mic’d, adding the squeak of fingers on the fretboards and sound of Sanchez’s pick hitting the strings to the mix. When inattentive fans started talking, the rest of the audience had no qualms about shutting them up.

Although their songs have no words, Sanchez and Quintero had no trouble keeping the crowd involved. At one point Sanchez had a three-part clap circulating around the theater. The two’s infectious energy — Quintero relished jumping around the stage — kept fans on their feet for most of the last half of the set.

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(Above: Jeff Beck takes fans higher with this cover of the Sly and the Family Stone classic.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star 

After staying away from Kansas City for more than a decade, guitar wizard Jeff Beck has graced city limits twice in a year. The setlist for Saturday night’s concert at a sold-out Uptown Theater may have resembled his y concert at Starlight in APril 2010, but if anyone had a problem with the encore performance they did a good job of hiding it.

Beck had been touring with a pair of vocalists and a horn section and playing 1950s rockabilly and rock and roll classics, so it was somewhat disappointing to see him take the stage with his standard touring band. Any misgivings were easily brushed aside before the first chorus, however.

The musical structure of all pop songs is repetitive – verse, chorus, verse, bridge. Clever lyrics are a major reason why many songs stay fresh. As an instrumentalist, Beck turned to different tools to keep his music interesting. The guitarist and his backing trio, which included Jason Robello on keyboards, Rhonda Smith on bass and drummer Narada Michael Walden, worked hard to make sure the energy never flagged.

The hour-and-45-minute set shifted smoothly between all-out rockers like “Big Block” and delicate readings of “Corpus Christi Carol” and “Two Rivers.” When the quartet opened up the throttle they created a powerful sound. The rhythm section of Walden and Smith played off each other with a notesy, complementary competition in the vein of Keith Moon and John Entwistle. Robello subtly filled in the remaining colors.

Shunning the microphone set up at extreme stage right for most of the night, Beck did all of his communicating with his hands and arms. A flick of the wrist indicated the tempo, while an outstretched arm highlighted the soloist. By shooting his arm straight up, Beck induced a nifty call-and-response with audience during “Led Boots” and coaxed them into signing the final stanza of “Over the Rainbow.” When a fan seated near the stage was caught recording the performance, Beck wagged his finger back and forth disapprovingly.

Taking the stage in a black suit jacket and matching pants, Beck quickly shed the coat. His traditional attire of arms bare to the shoulders was almost like the magician’s disclaimer: nothing up my sleeves. But like a master illusionist, although Beck’s arsenal was on full display, it was impossible to figure out his tricks. On a fairly straightforward reading of “Over the Rainbow,” Beck played the melody barely moving his left hand on the neck of the guitar. The notes were altered by knobs and bars under his busy right hand.

The Beatles needed a full orchestra for their “A Day in the Life.” Beck had everything he needed beyond his wrists. Tenderly plucking the first verse, he slowly built the song until the grand climax exploded off the stage.

Over the course of the evening, Beck paid tribute to many of his favorite artists, including Jeff Buckley (“Corpus Christi Carol”), Muddy Waters (“Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” featuring White on vocals), Les Paul (“How High the Moon”), Jimi Hendrix (“Little Wing,” with Walden on the mic), Sly and the Family Stone (the lengthy raucous “I Want to Take You Higher”) and Puccini (set-closing “Nessun Dorma”). The styles may have been diverse, but Beck never sounded like anything other than himself.

Setlist: Plan B; Stratus; Led Boots; Corpus Christi Carol; Hammerhead; Mna Na Eireann (Women of Ireland); bass solo; People Get Ready; You Never Know; Rollin’ and Tumblin’; Big Block; Over the Rainbow; Little Wing; Blast from the East; Two Rivers; Dirty Mind; drum solo; Brush With the Blues; A Day in the Life. Encore: I Want to Take You Higher; How High the Moon; Nessun Dorma.

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(Above: Jeff Beck darn near steals “A Day in the Life” from the Beatles.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Guitar wizard Jeff Beck’s career spans six decades and encompasses rock, fusion, prog rock, rockabilly, techno and blues.

So when Beck says he prefers to experiment in different styles, it’s a bit like Mick Jagger saying he likes groupies.

There are few times on Beck’s 17 studio albums where he dips into as many styles as he has on his latest release, “Emotion and Commotion.”

The record includes performances with a full orchestra, collaborations with Irish, soul and opera singers and a pair of tributes to the late Jeff Buckley.

“I try not to get stuck on something or I’ll end up doing four albums of the same thing. I dabble,” Beck said in a recent telephone interview while on tour in Australia.

While Beck covers the gamut, his latest album was largely the product of good-luck accidents. Taking a cue from his fellow guitarists in the Yardbirds, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, Beck appears with an orchestra on several pieces, including Puccini’s aria “Nessun Dorma” and an arrangement of “Corpus Christi Carol,” recorded in tribute to Buckley.

“The whole idea of me doing classical numbers started five or six years ago,” Beck said. “I was trying to get my guitar to sound like a voice in an orchestra.”

The initial result — an interpretation of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 — remains unreleased, but it encouraged Beck to keep trying.

“It was a hell of a lot of work for it to just be lying around, but (Mahler’s Fifth) allowed me to compromise,” Beck said. “I didn’t want to take an entire album’s worth to EMI Classics, because I couldn’t see a career jumping on orchestra stages every night with me as conductor. So we just have a taste.”

Beck unintentionally mirrored another aspect of Clapton’s career when he covered “Over the Rainbow.” Clapton performed the number on his 2001 tour, but Beck said he has no intention of hearing Clapton’s interpretation “because I don’t want to realize any similarity.

“I used to watch weepy movies, genuine quality films by Busby Berkeley, where all of a sudden a band kicks in and music would happen,” Beck said. “When I heard that song, it was one of the most beautiful performances.”

The lush orchestral numbers are countered by a pair of songs featuring Joss Stone on vocals, and several hard-rocking cuts with his old touring band, including young British bass savant Tal Wilkenfeld.

On “Lilac Wine,” a second tribute to Buckley, Beck is joined by Imelda May on the mic.

“This is how my life is,” Beck said. “I meet people or hear about them, and then I find out they’re available when I look into them. Imelda and Joss are two of the most beautiful women ever, and they fancy working with me, so who’s going to say no?”

“Emotion and Commotion” closes with a song from the Oscar-winning score to “Atonement.” Beck had been working with an orchestra on the piece, when producer Steve Lipson told him opera singer Olivia Safe was recording next door.

“We played her ‘Elegy for Dunkirk,’ and she completely flipped out. The next thing I know, she’s sitting in on it,” Beck said. “I was missing some element on my own. The performance is much deeper, thanks to her.”

The tributes to Buckley were also serendipitous. Beck wasn’t familiar with the late singer-songwriter until someone slipped him a CD on the way out of a party.

Beck said he was incredibly moved by Buckley’s singing and wanted to interpret that voice on the guitar.

“Without any design, these songs slid into place,” he said. “At first we were going to do ‘Hallelujah,’ but that song has become very popular, so we decided against it.”

Before embarking on his latest tour, Beck paired with Clapton for a handful of dates in Japan. The shows featured solo sets from each guitarist and culminated with a jam.

“Eric and I have always been linked through the Yardbirds, but we always seem to brush casually past each other,” Beck said. “I know people were hoping we’d compete to see who’s better, but I’ve always thought it looks stupid to try and out-shred someone. Eric would hit me with a certain style of music, and then it’s up to me to respond. It’s a meeting of two people, not a guitar contest.”

While Beck’s tour will include about half of the songs from “Emotion and Commotion,” it will feature none of the guest musicians, including Wilkenfeld.

However, the tour has reunited Beck with drummer Narada Michael Walden, who played on Beck’s 1976 album “Wired.” Walden has since produced “The Bodyguard” soundtrack, wrote the No. 1 hit “Freeway of Love” for Aretha Franklin and has penned or produced other chart-toppers for Mariah Carey, Diana Ross, Starship and Al Jarreau.

“I had to replace the rhythm section because they had other commitments,” Beck said. “Tal had her own project to do, which she delayed while she was playing with me. I hesitated to call Narada because I knew how busy he was, but he said I should have called 30 years ago. He was waiting for the call.”

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(Above: Cross Canadian Ragweed show off their new song “51 Pieces.” What’s with the Raiders shirt on an Oakie?)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The television show “CMT Crossroads” found a niche by pairing seemingly disparate artists like Taylor Swift and Def Leppard or Lucinda Williams and Elvis Costello for a one-hour performance. With their blend of arena-ready country channeled through classic rock radio, Cross Canadian Ragweed could fill a show all by themselves.

The Oklahoma-based quartet preached to a half-full Crossroads Friday night delivering nearly two dozen tracks from across their 12-year career and several songs from their just-released seventh album. Singer and lead guitarist Cody Canada played like a character from the latest edition of “Guitar Hero,” flipping between Eddie Van Halen’s finger-tapping technique, the heavy rhythm riffs inspired by Angus Young and subtle finger-picked solos a la Mark Knopfler.

Although it’s fun and easy, the congregated faithful weren’t playing spot the influence. They were too busy dancing in bliss, rocking to the music, hands raised, hallelujah. Their following is so loyal Canada could toss a lyric to the crowd and get it back twice as loud, but even he was impressed when the boisterous bunch sang along to material released just 10 days ago.

The high points of the two hour set came from opposite ends of the spectrum. “Anywhere But Here” opened like the country cousin of “Panama” and benefited from the extra muscle the band put into the extended reading. When snippets of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” appeared, it was less a cover than an assimilation.

Canada’s three-song solo acoustic set showed off his songwriting and storytelling chops. “Lonely Girl” was inspired by his sister while new number “Bluebonnets” was written for his four-year-old son. The trilogy of acoustic numbers was followed by a three-part medley Canada dubbed “The Trifecta,” which swaggered from rock to blues before ending with another new cut, “Pretty Lady.”

Bass player Jeremy Plato gave Canada a smoke break by handling lead vocals on two songs. His voice was a nice change of pace but too many bass solos – including two in the final three numbers – bogged the energy a bit. Ditto for the drum solo that preceded “Number.”

Ragweed’s set ended with guaranteed crowd pleasers “Carney Man” and “Late Last Night.” For “Time To Move On” Jonathan Tyler, who led the first act on the bill, joined the quartet on guitar. The night ended with a new song that felt old. Although it wasn’t officially released until Sept. 1, the crowd went ballistic for “51 Pieces” based on the opening lines of the story that introduced the number.

Lucero got sandwich billing between opener Jonathan Tyler and Northern Lights and Ragweed. The Memphis-based quartet sounds like the E Street Band via Uncle Tupelo and front man Ben Nichols sounds like Jay Farrar after too many cigarettes and way too much whiskey.

Their one-hour set was heavy on fan requests and included “Kiss the Bottle,””Raising Hell” and new material like “Darken My Door.” Although Lucero weren’t the band most of the crowd came to see, they did a great job of firing up the sizable swarm in front of the stage.

Setlist: Sister, Alabama, Burn Like the Sun, Mexican Sky, Deal, To Find My Love, Hammer Down, 42 Miles, Soul Agent, Anywhere But Here (including Won’t Get Fooled Again), Drag, drum solo, Number, (acoustic set) Let the Rain Fall Down (unsure if this title is correct), Lonely Girl, Bluebonnets, The Trifecta (including Pretty Lady), Carney Man, Time to Move On (with Jonathan Tyler), Late Last Night, (encore) 51 Pieces

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