Melissa and I, along with two Nicks (actually three if you count the Nick that gave us a ride-- but he had a floor seat) and Nick's (which one?) girlfriend Erin made the pilgrimage to Roy Wilkins Auditorium last night to see Beck. I saw him when he played the same venue in 2003, and it was the best concert I've ever been to. So I had high expectations going in. While I personally don't think it was as good as last time, Beck still put on a great show.
The opening act (I didn't catch the guy's name) was kind of bizarre. He gave new meaning to the term "one man band." Any description of him has to start with his appearance: He had long hair, nearly reaching to his waist, which he constantly brushed back from his eyes in cliched rock-star fashion. Also, he was wearing a kilt.
The guy had fashioned a musical suit of armor, with electronic drum pads attached to a breastplate and other drum sensors attached to his boots. He stomped his feet and beat his chest (not kidding) to lay down a rock beat. Strapped to either side of his waist was a keyboard/keytar. He used his right hand to play "bass" while his left hand played heavy-metal power chords. Somehow, he also used his mouth to "play" guitar solos with the help of some electronic device. He played AC-DC covers "Back in Black" and "Highway to Hell," along with a few stupidly catchy originals. Sample chorus: "I'm gonna party while the world gets blown away," touchingly and poetically describing his contingency plan for nuclear catastrophe.
After a long delay— well, long enough for Melissa and I to share a $4.00 chemical brew dubiously labeled “Diet Coke,” and for her to have to pee—Beck’s band finally emerged from behind the curtain. There were probably 7 or 8 people in the band. They included two full drum sets, a conga player, a “video DJ” who projected images onto a backlit screen, and a guy whose only purpose seemed to be to dance around stage while the band played—he shook the titular “Black Tambourine” on the set opener and rocked a Radio Raheem-style boombox on a hard-rocking version of “Where It’s At” as another giant boombox descended from the ceiling on cables (an epic moment, to be sure.)
The setlist was pretty diverse, but skewed heavily towards selections from Guero. Some of the songs from the new record benefited from a live treatment, especially the “Loser-”redux-wannabe “Hell Yes,” which grows tedious in its recorded form but gained energy in Beck’s live interpretation. Two mellower tracks, “Broken Drum” and “Emergency Exit,” also sounded great live, and “Que Onda Guero” bounced with furious, silly energy.
However, at the beginning of the show, I was beginning to fear that the concert might not be as great as I’d hoped. I was disappointed with the early medley that included too-brief snippets of “Nicotine and Gravy” and “Hollywood Freaks,” as well as a couple of others. A cool rendition of “Girl” turned annoying because of some crappy sound engineering, as a pounding, repetitious keyboard drowned out the rest of the song. In a few songs, the presence of so much percussive firepower seemed to clutter and confuse the music. I preferred the smaller, tighter setup (only 3 or 4 guys) of the 2003 concert, but I grudgingly concurred with Nick S.’s assessment—the songs on Guero have a lot going on, so a bigger band is needed. But I really don’t think that every person was needed on every song.
However, things soon got better. Highlights of the show for me were a cool version of “Sissyneck”—probably the best track on Odelay—with Beck playing slide guitar, and a masterful performance of “Ramshackle,” its acoustic quietude Sea Changed with heavier beats, spacey electric guitar and pulsing synths. I also enjoyed “Nobody’s Fault But My Own,” with Beck on accordion, backed by foot stomps and hand claps from his band. The solo set in the middle was good, too, with Beck loosely picking out some of his softer tunes such as “Guess I’m Doing Fine” on electric guitar. It also included a sweet solo version of “Debra” that morphed into a loving tribute to R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” saga.
The deafening applause at the end of the band’s set brought them back out for a high-octane encore of “E-Pro” and a funky, stretched-out “Mixed Bizness.” Beck invited a couple dozen fans onstage to dance with him, and the stage shook from the drunken getting-down. When the extended jam (Beck: “Take it higher!” Fans: “Higher!”) of “Mixed Bizness” ended, the crowd stood once again, craving a second encore, but it was not to be. We went home with warm fuzzies in our bellies and a healthy optimism for the Decemberists concert on October 21st.
Star Tribune review