Beck is back on tour for the first time in four years, and this was the official kick-off after a warm-up gig a few days before at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles. He was joined by his Sea Change-era band Smokey Hormel (guitar), Justin Meldal-Johnsen (bass), Roger Manning (keyboards) and Joey Waronker (drums) for the first time in about a decade. So there were, understandably, a few cobwebs to be shed. Be that as it may, they still sounded great as they covered nearly two decades worth of Beck’s songs.
Like Beck’s career, the concert started with his absurdist anthem “Loser.” This is the one that put Beck on the map, deftly mixing rock, blues and hip-hop influences into a catchy package that still sounds pretty unique today.
Early in the show, there was an extended visit to Beck’s 2002 break-up acoustic album Sea Change with the songs “The Golden Age,” “Lost Cause,” “End of the Day” and “Sunday Sun,” and, later, “Paper Tiger” and “Guess
I’m Doin’ Fine.” While I prefer the rock-hip-hop-hybrid portion of Beck’s diverse catalog, this did remind the audience of his skills in the mellow singer-songwriter vein. Of course, it also made a lot of sense, given the make-up of the band.
An early highlight was “Hotwax,” with some cool bass synth sounds and an out-there guitar solo that Beck dedicated to “every guitar solo ever played in this very venue in the 1980s.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the solo fell apart a bit, and afterward Beck joked that “I got caught up in the guitar solo and couldn’t get out.” This nicely illustrated two of the greatest things about Beck: he isn’t afraid to take musical chances, and he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Beck joked a bit more with the audience throughout the concert. One of the best, when an overhead helicopter was heard, he said, “Nothing like a helicopter in the midsummer evening. Reminds me of my childhood” in Los Angeles, when police helicopters were out and about. This time the helicopter was perhaps just taking overhead footage of the show, which was being professionally (and only slightly intrusively) filmed for an unspecified purpose.
To me, the highlight of the show was the run-through of songs off Beck’s 1996 masterwork Odelay at the end of the main set: “Minus,” “Devil’s Haircut,” “Where It’s At” and “The New Pollution.” “Where It’s At” particularly ignited the crowd with its mix of Doors-style keyboards, trippy lyrics and hip-hop vibe. “I got two turntables and a microphone!”
For an encore, Beck played a punked-up, almost unrecognizable, and very cool version of “Girl,” and the raucous “E-Pro,” during which Beck’s blond-haired son, Cosimo, almost stole the show with some sweet dance moves (check it out here. I predict big things for that little guy.
Who knows what curveball is coming next from Beck, but for now, it’s just great that he is back on tour, at the Bowl and beyond.
Think I’m In Love
The Golden Age
End of the Day
Soul of a Man
Guess I’m Doin’ Fine
Where It’s At
The New Pollution
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.