This Beck concert was like a mini event here, he said during the show he hadn’t played Los Angeles in four years, and at the last-minute announce of this surprise show at the El Rey Theater, the tickets had sold out in a flash of a second… and I still don’t know how I managed to get one. As I arrived around 7:30 pm, there was already a long line in front of the theater, which was crazy considering Beck took the stage around 10 pm, with only one short opening act, assured by funny guy Dimitri Martin around 9 pm!
Yeah, what the hell happened to Beck since his 2008 ‘Modern Guilt’? He vanished, either took care of his family or made only TV series and film soundtracks,… I don’t know but seeing all these devotee fans begging for an extra ticket or Craiglist’s exorbitant offers (I saw some for $300-400!), there obviously was a void to fill.
The Theater filled up little by little, and soon got really packed to its full limit. Demetri got on stage with his numerous jokes in series and his story-songs about girls, first class air travel, digital camera, automatic paper toilet and other clever observations, making people laughing out really loud… That’s the second time I see this, a comedian opening for a musician (Garry Shandling opened for Ryan Adams at the Disney Music Hall a few months ago) and it works, because laughing is such a feel-good warm-up for music. Beck said later it was part of their master plan, to invite a comedian,… whatever this meant.
Beck arrived relaxed on stage with a massive smile on his face and a black hat on his head, he hardly removed during his 2-hour-set of 23 songs. I still don’t understand why there were no photographers, no press, as the pit was empty during the whole time, may be at Beck’s request? On the other hand, it was not as if he was launching a new album, he didn’t even play a single new song! Only hits or well-known songs, in a setlist heavy on ‘Sea Change’, with no less than 7 songs off his most melancholic album! After the show, I heard a guy saying he had preferred the second part, when the ‘Odelay’ material surfaced (they played 7 ‘Odelay’ songs!!), and it’s sure that playing the mellow-lamenting-self-reflecting songs like ‘Golden Age’, ‘Lost Cause’, and ’End of the Day’, was an unusual way to start the show. I was not complaining because I love those, but the crowd only woke up at ‘Where It’s At’.
However, Beck had announced it, ‘We are going to start with a few quiet ones, and be louder later!’ Plus, there was an obvious reason why they were playing so much of ‘Sea Change’, he recorded his 2002 album with these same guys, and he said it was the first time in 10 years they were playing together! He seemed to be very happy about that as he thanked them several times, calling them ‘these gentlemen’.
The super mellow ambiance of the first songs was beautifully balanced by Justin Meldal-Johnsen’s upright bass during ‘Lost Cause’, and just regular bass for most of the other songs, as he was wildly shaking his afro which was dripping sweat at the end of the show.
At Beck’s right, Smokey Hormel was on guitar and behind him Roger Joseph Manning Jr. was at the keys, and it was like a sort of happy high-school reunion: ‘We pretty much spent our 20s together’, said Beck at one point pointing out they had shared adventures in many ‘rock festivals and tour buses that smelled like urine’.
Beck announced a song from ‘another record we did together’, but they actually only played one song, ‘Dead melodies’ off ‘Mutations’. All these songs were delightfully executed, with a shattering ending for ‘Sunday Sun’, but the crowd really got into it with the following song as Beck and his band got them at the ‘Clap your Hands’ line and the weird funky-sexy-bluesy-rap-noisy material of the unique songs off ‘Odelay’.
Beck was rather talkative, joking at each occasion, visibly enjoying his time on stage, still making numerous allusions to the passing of time. At 41, he is not the young adventurous musician coming up with all this weird palette of incredible original sounds, but he still can play them very well, doing in succession ‘Where It's At’ and ‘Hotwax’. My Beckology was a little rusty, as I was at times struggling to remember the titles of songs (helped by a guy next to me who whispered me that this song was indeed ‘Gamma Ray’,.. of course!), but Beck was a little rusty too as he had lots of paper sheets on the floor with the lyrics on!
The rest of the show was a medley of songs off ‘Guero’, ‘The Information’, and ‘Modern Guilt’, while revisiting ‘Odelay’ and ‘Sea Change’ again a few times. There was an infectious bass on ‘Black Tambourine’ and the arrangements on ‘Paper Tiger’ were truly amazing.
‘So we all got back together last Tuesday’ said Beck, ‘to make a list of the songs we should play’,… then he added addressing the crowd ‘But I have no idea what you want!’ Of course he got what he wanted, people were screaming song titles, ‘There are just too many’, said Justin, ‘Do you have,… 12 nights?’ As a matter of fact, everyone had! But in one night they already played all the big all-time hits, ‘Jack-ass’, ‘Devil’s haircut’, even ‘Minus’, and of course, ‘Loser’. After short break, they came back for three other famous ones, ‘Sissyneck’ being played without any practice but just because a guy had requested it all night as Beck said… it sounded great nevertheless.
I don’t know if it was a rehearsal for their show at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Thursday, the whole thing sounded like an intimate moment shared with old friends, just good time, with good feeling and old tunes. There was no risk taken, no new songs, but people were truly happy, the show came up as a nice present Beck had given to his fans. One last thing, Gary Tovar, Mr. Goldenvoice was next to me during a large part of the show, so Mr. Tovar, could Beck be on the next Coachella bill?
1. Golden Age
2. Lost Cause
3. End of the Day
4. Dead Melodies
5. Sunday Sun
6. Where It's At
8. Black Tambourine
9. Think I'm in Love
10. Soul of a Man
11. Paper Tiger
12. Modern Guilt
13. Soldier Jane
14. Already Dead
15. Guess I'm Doing Fine
17 Gamma Ray
19 Devil's Haircut
22. The New Pollution