Beck began the evening with some solo-acoustic versions of his songs, along with a Flaming Lips (who toured with him in the States) and Hank Williams cover – “This is the part of the show where I can do what I want.” The gorgeous Palais Theatre suited this part of the night perfectly.
Beck has been described as post-modern, in the sense that his music is a “pastiche” of different styles – folk, rock, blues, hip-hop, funk, soul etc. He samples snippets of other songs, dialogue and on one occasion, classical music and he does it well. It’s interesting and original. You can’t accuse him of lacking versatility.
My favourite Beck album is “Mellow Gold” and although the polished sound of this show lacked his debut’s indie, early-nineties rawness, I do (occasionally) realise that it’s not the early nineties anymore.
“Odelay” is his sonic magnum opus, his “Sgt Pepper”, and he admitted it was not very good, but a way “of getting somewhere.” If he wasn’t talking about picking up chicks he was probably saying that the production and arrangements were more interesting and original than the songs (Bob Dylan thought “Sgt Pepper” was very self-indulgent, in terms of it’s production, but he thought the songs were good.) But if you thought “Odelay” was trying too hard to be clever, there’s the antidotal follow-up, “Mutations” – When Beck wants to make an album of good, simply arranged songs, he can.
A common gripe (characteristic? problem?) of postmodern art is that it lacks sincerity (The death of truth.). Beck’s lyrics are abstract, humurous, and he often sings them funny and warped. But this doesn’t mean his lyrics are bad or meaningless. Beck says, “I get frustrated when people say, ‘Oh, that’s a bunch of gibberish.’ It’s the way you percieve it.”
On Wednesday night Beck played folk – but he’s no Bob Dylan. He tackled soul – but he’s no James Brown. He did funk (dance moves and all) – but he’s no Prince. He tried a bit of Hip-hop – but he’s no Tupac. When I say this I don’t necessarily mean he wasn’t as good as these artists – his songs are great, but with the artists mentioned above, you get a sense that the music is “straight from the heart”, “flowing through their veins” (mileage). With Beck it seems more of a “performance”, parodic. Some critics have attacked Beck for lacking soulful expression – his whole “this is cheesy music (best example, his “Midnite Vultures” album) but, it’s ok, because I know it’s cheesy.”)
Beck has answered these critics with his latest album, the irony-free “Sea Change”, a masterpiece of orchestral heartbreak – it’s his “Blood on the Tracks” (Bob Dylan’s break-up album), his “Five Leaves Left” (Nick Drake). “You want pathos?” Beck asks, “you got it.” And it works – on record and in live performance.
Beck’s show crescended from just him with an acoustic guitar to a rockin’ out, fully orchestrated, funky-ass affair. He got everyone up from their seats, shakin’ their booty to hits like “Devil’s Haircut”, “New Pollution” and “Nicotine and Gravy.” But if you thought this was a bit tacky, silly, and insincere, he returned for a second encore by himself, with a giant accordian thingy and did a fantastic, heartfelt version of “Nobody’s fault but my own” from the “Mutations” album,
He brought it all back home, brilliantly.