The crowd is getting restless. About ten people away from me, I see a guy light up the biggest joint I have ever seen in my life (not that I’ve seen that many). It looks about the size of a cigar. An interesting melange of pot smoke and cigarette smoke pervades the air, even though this is distinctly a non-smoking venue. Big pockets of smoke are visible above certain parts of the audience, so it would be easy for any security to bust whoever they wanted...if they could make their way into the really tightly knit crowd, that is.
Some girls are trying to push their way through me to get closer, but I buddy up with the girl next to me and form a little blockade. They seem discouraged, and I tell the girl next to me—who’s even shorter than I am—that we’re short and we don’t need tall people getting in front of us. I could barely see as it is.
At last, the lights go down and the crowd goes wild. The back curtain goes up to reveal the backing band, dimly lit. They’re all dressed up in various interesting costumes, the most notable of which is probably bass player Justin Meldal-Johnson. He’s wearing an orange top with some sort of tubing taped to it, and his curly hair is frizzed out, resmbling a fright wig. I look to the left side of the stage and can see Beck, clad entirely in black, clapping along with the band and jogging in place, getting psyched up for the show. About a minute later Sir Hansen jumps onto the stage to the delight of the audience.
Without delay the band launches into a very noisy version of “Devil’s Haircut,” and many people towards the front of the pit starting jumping into each other. How positively '90s of them. Didn’t this go out of style six years ago? I can barely see Beck right now. I’m too busy watching everybody pile into each other in vain attempts to get a mosh pit going.
After this they launch into “Mixed Bizness,” the latest single off the brilliant new album “Midnite Vultures.” At some point in the middle of the song, Beck takes off his black jacket and reveals a black tank top underneath, to the cheers of the audience. He immediately begins doing the “robot,” one of a number of moves he’s famous for doing in concert.
If any song of the evening is going to get people moshing, it’s probably the grunge-rap of “Novocane.” And at the end of the song, Beck indulges in a little freestyle into the mic:
“Cause like a fake ID,
you know I be steppin’,
like El Chico DeBarge givin’ you a vocal lesson.”
He then does a little line about he has an eight octave range and proceeds to sing a few ascending heavily echoed notes into the mic, which closes the song and warrants a great reaction from the audience.
Next up is a very surprising choice, the folky “Lord Only Knows.” Beck gives the song a very heavy treatment this time out, which I guess is hardly surprising considering it’s a live show. The best moment of this performance is when Beck cues Justin to do a little bass solo, and he launches into Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger.”
Beck finishes the song and meanders up to the mic to do a little Prince-esque “hoo-ha,” something he did many times throughout the night. He says “It’s been three years since we’ve been out here. This is the livest San Diego crew I’ve ever seen!”
After that, the all too familiar opening chords of “Loser” ring out, a very surprising choice, considering how sick Beck must be of this song by now. Having said that, the performance is great. The live performance adds a certain grunginess and bottom that is absent on the studio version, and the spirit lifts the room. At one point Beck takes a moment to represent: “1993 in effect!”
After this they break into a funk jam which strongly resembles Eddie Grant’s '80s hit “Electric Avenue,” which definitely fits the mood of the new album and tour. My suspicions are confirmed when Beck begins singing the familiar chorus over the jam. Beck holds a mic stand to his crotch and starts walking around. Unfortunately, this jam only lasts about a minute, with Beck adding “Just a little taste for ya’ll” at the end. Probably something they came up with in rehearsal.
Here’s something for the moshers to dig. The guitarist and bassist play the frenetic opening chords of “Minus,” the punky jam off of “Odelay.” And sure enough folks start jumping around again. By the end of the song, Beck spins his guitar around his body—something I can’t quite figure out how he did—and does some Prince-esque moves. He culminates this by putting a road cone on his head, which I find fitting, seeing as how he’s probably our current jester of rock and roll. I have to admit, by this point in the show, I’m getting rather restless for some new material. Don’t get me wrong, "Odelay" is a great record, and at one point it was my favorite of his. But with the sheer exellence of the new material off of “Midnite Vultures”—which I’ve been marathon playing for months—I’m waiting with baited breath to hear some of it.
Beck grants my wish my launching into the smooth funk intro of “Nicotine And Gravy.” He wields a long wire and brandishes it like a whip. The backing vocalists give a fine performance in this song, and at one point one of them does a soulful scream that really gives the rave-up section a kick in the pants. The only disappointment is near the end of the song: instead of three vocal lines going on at once, Beck opts to do only one. Beck makes up for it with the last few measures. Keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. does some incredible synthesizer tomfoolery at the end which culminates in a fantastic solo, while Beck goes to the floor to do some breakin’. I can barely see from where I’m standing, but the crowd goes crazy. Alright, this show is now in high gear.
What better way to kick the show into overdrive than by going into a slow jam. But this is no ordinary slow jam. The lights go down and the guitarist begins playing the percolating, trickling guitar notes of fan favorite “Debra,” and I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself. This proves to be the absolute highlight of the evening.
Beck gives the song a lengthy spoken preamble, not getting into the song in earnest until the mood is just right. The results are hilarious. Beck improv’s so much that it would be impossible to catalogue it all here. “I’m gonna tell you a story about a girl I met down here in Glendale...She ate food from Persia and drank wine from the Nile...It’s a story about a girl named Jenny. Have I told ya’ll this story before?” Irridescent flashing lights shine from the tarp at the back of the stage, which creates a perfect mood of nighttime and city lights. It’s a great effect. A guy a few people ahead of me whips out a lighter and waves it back and forth, something my friend and I had joked about earlier.
Beck now brings out a road cone on stage. He goes into a hilarious spiel of how he works on a construction site. “I work hard for the money,” he says. “I think about a girl I met back in 2001.” Beck randomly begins pointing to people in the audience and talking about them, as if he knew them. He gets to one girl: “There’s Sasha. Sasha throwin’ up signs and shit...but we know she’s from the suburbs.”
By the time Beck gets to the first verse the sensation is thrilling. There’s been such a long, hilarious lead up, that when he sings his opening falsetto notes “I met you at J.C. Penney,” the effect is overwhelming. After the line “I wouldn’t do you like that, zanqu chicken,” Beck mutters into the microphone “that’s mighty good chicken.” This kind of mock-soul reportee lends to the overall effect of the song. He then lets the band vamp as he repeats “zan…qu…chicken…” seductively over and over. “They roast it on a rotisserie, all day and all night,” he adds. After such a long buildup, by the time Beck hits the chorus the payoff is wonderful. Lights flash as Beck sings the immortal chorus “I wanna get wit you…and your sister…I think her name’s Debra.”
Beck engages in more theatrics, pushing his chest in and doing an impressive robot move and slicking his hair back. Roger Manning pulls out a nice, dirty, gritty jazz organ solo after the first chorus. When Beck gets to the line “when our eyes did meet,” he falls down on one knee for the word “meet,” as the band hits a tight chord. Beck is milking this song for all its worth and the effect is nothing less than brilliant. When he gets to the line “only you got a thing,” he urges the band to “do it one more time! I thought that had a nutty bouquet to it,” and proceeds to repeat it several times. As if all this wasn’t enough, the crowning moment of the song comes when a huge bed, complete with leopard skin sheets, lowers down from the ceiling, to the delight of the crowd. Beck proceeds to crawl onto the bed and writhe around while singing the rest of the song, enveloping himself in the sheets, hearkening a mid-'80s Prince or Madonna. Absolutely over the top. “I got sweat on my thighs,” notes Beck. After an incredible last chorus, the band kicks in hard and he throws the mic down and runs off stage. This is puzzling as it isn’t really clear if he’s upset or if it’s just part of the theatrics. After the band finishes and Beck returned to the stage, he adds, puzzlingly, “Sometimes it’s better not to share the pain and hold it in.” An incredible performance of an incredible song—unlike any other I’ve ever seen.
After this amazing 15 minute mock soul groove, Beck and the band slide into the breezy, latin flavored “Tropicalia,” after which someone in the audience throws a Gilligan type hat on stage. Beck puts it on and continues to wear it for the rest of the evening.
As the lights lower a bit, the backing band leaves the stage and Beck picks up an acoustic guitar. He takes a minute to comment on the San Diego audience. “You got the good life. You got nice breezes. A nice community. Than ya’ll go buck wild!” The first song in this acoustic portion of the set is the excellent “Pay No Mind,” from the album “Mellow Gold.” This time out, Beck changes the line “like a giant dildo crushing the sun” to “like a ghettoblaster blasting the sun.” Why he does this is not known (artistic license, I guess).
“I didn’t feel like playing chords when I wrote this one,” says Beck, as he launches into the primitive “I Get Lonesome,” off of his indie album “One Foot In The Grave.”
Beck takes a moment to discuss the elaborate set with the audience. “How do you like this set we got goin’ for ya? I was walkin’ down by the construction site when I saw these sewage pipes and I decided that’s what I want for my set. That’s what I want my show associated with. Sewage.” After this it’s the exquisite “Dead Melodies” off of “Mutations.” This rendition, featuring only Beck on an acoustic guitar, nearly betters the original, and shows just how strong the song is on its own merits. It’s at this point that something peculiar catches my eye…to my left, way up at the top of the bleachers, in the hallway, is a woman (presumably) doing some bizarre kind of interpetive dancing to the music. The effect is surreal and makes me feel like I’m at a Joan Baez concert or something. After a while, more and more people in the audience notice her and look over, perplexed.
After Beck finishes, he utters some random words about his backing band. “I’m gonna bring some folks back out on the stage now. I just like them ‘cause their thighs are very firm. Muscular thighs, but good musicians as well.” After this it’s a nice rendition of “Jack-ass,” based on the Butch Vig single mix version (the main difference of which is a steady drumbeat).
After this comes the absolute highlight of the night (bar "Debra"), when Beck decides to do a little grandstanding on behalf of musicians everywhere. “There’s one more thing I gotta say. There’s something going on in music right now...and it’s not good.” Cheers erupt from the audience. “I encourage any able-bodied people out there to go out and play and wreak as much havoc as possible. Just go rip some shit up. Please, for me.” The whole place goes nuts. Normally this kind of soapbox behavior is kind of abhorrent coming from a celebrity, but…it’s Beck Hansen…and he's right. Beck even apologizes, saying it’s not his thing to rip on other artists, but everyone knows he’s right, and the delicate sincerity with which he delivers the words is enough to cause a mixture of hilarity and head nodding in the audience.
“I’m about to bring this boat into the harbor” maintains Beck, as the band launches into the familiar intro to “Where It’s At.” This song is probably still Beck's biggest hit, and doesn't fail to get the audience going. The ending results in a long jam, and whereas this usually leads into an amazing coda called "Make Out City" (Beck actually released a remix of the song under the moniker), this time, it disappointingly segues into a mere ska version of the song. Still, bassist Justin Meldal-Johnson, Beck, and the guitarist all slide from one side to another, and Beck gives a little Prince scream. The lighting goes purple and Beck launches into the familiar "robot" move.
Beck leaves the stage and emerges with some police tape, and wears a denim suit with big round patches on it. As they slide into the mellow, groovy “New Pollution” the lighting turns very psychedelic. Beck ends the song with “who’s gonna buy me a sandwich? What’s yo zip code?” Perpetratin' as ever.
The next portion of the show features only Beck’s resident mixmaster, DJ Swamp. Now normally I’m kind of lukewarm on the prospect of watching a “DJ set” (one in which the mixmaster scratches and manipulates a number of records for the audience), but Swamp wins me over very quickly. His talents at the turntables are extraordinary. In a set that must have gone on for almost ten minutes, DJ Swamp went at his turntables with a ferocious intensity. At one point, he even “scratched” versions of “Louie Louie,” “Eye Of The Tiger” and the death march, all very impressive. By the end of his set he was alternating records so fast on and off his turntable that one thought he was going to explode. The audience reached a fevered pitch as DJ Swamp took two records and smashed them down onto his turntables, signalling the end of his set. The crowd went wild.
The band then re-emerges on stage in medical garb, probably a reference to the video for the first single off of "Midnite Vutures,’ “Sexx Laws.” Bass player Justin Meldal-Johnson has taped IV bags to his chest. Beck’s head is bandaged and he holds a long IV chord. And as I predicted, the band launches into the incomparable funk rave-up “Sexx Laws.” After it is finished, a bizarre series of events ensue which could only be billed as outright anarchy. Amidst a wall of feedback, bizarre synth noises and general sonic chaos, Beck begins whipping the IV around…the guitarist inspects the bassist in a naughty doctor sort of way…Beck puts an IV down the bass player’s pants and begins to breathe…he then does the robot…the stage is black lit…Beck grabs a line of police tape and begins hobbling his way around the stage, wrapping it around all the musicians…then the band launches into a big Prince-esque jam as Beck exits.
But that's not all. Beck re-emerges from the wings wearing more bizarre items…a tambourine around his head, a road cone on his arm…one of the horn player’s bandages the guitarist’s head…a thick layer of fog emerges onto the stage, as the bassist finally wanders back on…Beck, having wandered off again, re-emerges a third time, this time with a keyboard stand around his person, pearls around his neck, and an orange construction worker vest, not dissimilar to the one he wore in the “Where It’s At” video…all the musicians, entirely surrounded in police tape, engage in a sluggish sort of tug of war as each one departs the stage…the bassist carries a horn player out on his shoulders…the bass player comes back on, but only for a few seconds.
All this, of course, defies apt description here. Chaotic. Mesmerizing. Amazing.
While the presentation of this concert seemed to be more of a "greatest hits" show than anything else (very surprising for someone who was once the king of indie rock), it certainly didn't fail to disappoint. Beck and his band gave an amazing, rocking, polished performance, and put on one of the strangest concerts (particularly the ending) I have ever seen in my life. I can't wait to see what he's got in store for us next.
© 2002 Crapple Records, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without the expressed written consent of Crapple Records, Inc.
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