Beards, Blazers & Beck
There are several rote cliches that you can always count on finding in Los Angeles. Perpetual sunshine. Sleazy Hollywood types. Pretty girls. And sleazy Hollywood types trying to scheme on
pretty girls in the sunshine. But LA has at least one more thing you can always depend on. Namely, that on any given year, Beck will play several top-secret shows at a small venue on the Eastside, all of them announced at the last minute, all of them sold out within 30 minutes of their announcement and all of them packed to the gills with the aforementioned sleazy Hollywood types and the women who love them.
Last Thursday, the one-time prince (and wanna-be Prince) of Silverlake pulled his usual move, a few rumors circulated about a possible Beck show later that week, and then the day of, the 3:00 p.m. announcement from The Echo that tickets were going on sale. Flash forward five hours later,. a waifish Beck, clad in a black felt Robin Hood hat, wispy mustache and scraggly blond hair, took the stage, vaguely resembling David Spade, if David Spade was a child molester. Nothing against Beck, but the dude looked creepy, gaunt cheekbones jutting out of his face, baggy clothes hanging limply from his body, eyes dull, head down. Apparently, food has been to Adderal on the list of Scientologist-banned substances.
I'd seen Beck once before, at a Greek Theater show on his Midnight Vultures tour seven years before. During the days of "Debra," when there was no denying Beck's undeniable charisma, cool banter with the crowd and successful knack for gimmickry and self-indulgence. The kinds of thing that only truly great artists can pull off. The kind of things that lead to beds being lowered on-stage, mid-set. There were none of those theatrics in this intimate club setting. Instead, backed by a talented five piece band, Beck put on a focused if subdued performance, trotting out a host of new songs, yet displaying practically no on-stage banter or rapport with the crowd.
Odeley-era, the new songs were the most rock-oriented of his career, heavier than anything Beck's ever attempting. The show had a quasi-jammy feel fueled by beefy guitar solos, scuzzy drum hits and bluesy harmonica peals. The songs might not have matched Beck's best records (in my mind, the trio of Mutations, Mellow Gold and Odelay, but in his latest incarnation, the ever-evolving artist seemed a bit closer to Mike Bloomfield than Mike Diamond.
While never reaching the realm of the transcendent, the performance was undeniably impressive, especially considering the songs' still rough-form. Beck's backing band was perfectly competent and slightly funky, despite having something a sanitized, Blueshammery vibe to them. This wasn't the raw stomping blues of The Black Keys, This was polished, slightly sanitized, tailor-made for the NPR crowd blues/stoner rock. But the band could Play, charging Beck's songs with wiry bursts of energy, ripping off power chords, slick bass lines and propulsive drums, even chiming in the occasional melodica solo (which like cornbread, there ain't nothing wrong with). Interspersing the new material with tracks from the recently re-released The Information, the show had a fun, rambunctious, loose vibe.
In fact, my only gripe was Beck's insistence on having an irritating terminally white hype-man dancing on-stage directly to his left. We're talking the sorts of lame dances last seen sometime in an Ibiza discoteque circa 1998. As someone in the crowd pointed out, "is it too much to ask for a hot dancing chick with a tambourine?" Touche. As for Beck himself, he seemed drained of the charisma that made him one of the biggest names in music a few years back, yet there was no denying his prodigious talent and continuing artistic evolution. I wouldn't be about to start bumping the "Mama Said Knock You Out" comeback linea just yet, but I also wouldn't be surprised if Beck's next jaunt finds him treading new ground in his third decade as a recording artist. That is, if the Scientologists or the Super Adventure Club don't finish him off first.
See Also The LA Times Buzz Bands Blog Review
MP3: Beck-"Think I'm In Love"
MP3: Beck-"Cell Phone's Dead"