Few twentysomethings playing six-string this year sound as fine as journeymen Gypie Mayo, Chris Dreja, John Idan, and the half-dozen rock senior-citizen stars of axdom summoned for the Yardbirds’ Birdland. Think of it as a handy antidote for those times you catch Jack White on TV playing some official Crappy-tone guitar that’s the same I’m-such-a-Bohemian red color as his T-shirt.
Anyway, as a rule, it doesn’t hurt to come out of the blocks armed with superb material, either, and—surprise—the old tunes don’t lose anything to fads or Father Time. One of the most annoying players in rock and roll, Joe Satriani, does try to pull down “Train Kept a Rollin’ ” with an ’80s-style shred, but the number’s momentum crushes him anyway. Everyone else strives mightily to get with the game. Even Steve Vai adds just the right amount of sustain and feedback—not too much wiggle stick—into “Shapes of Things,” Birdland‘s high point and one of the birthplaces of metal.
New Yardbirds songs can also be differentiated from old ones by length. They all run long in contrast to the 2:30-3:30 happenings almost 40-some years’ time ago. But until egg timers come free with new guitars, “Mr. Saboteur”—of the fresh lot—will do. The singer sounds like Michael St. Hubbins McKean singing the theme for a show in which Patrick McGoohan might have starred. After that, the listener is ready for Nigel Tufnel—strike that—Jeff Beck, who arrives just in time for “My Blind Life,” a croaking blues rebuilt from power trio days. —George Smith
Yardbirds play B.B. King Blues Club June 3.