The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

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.

Xenu? Wherefore Art Thou, Xenu?

As for the new songs, they reflect yet another new direction for the chameleon-like songwriter. Whereas on his last two albums Beck seemed backed into a corner trying to re-create the Beastie Boys/Dust Brothers homage of the 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"


At 10:30 AM, Blogger bonjourtristesse said...

Weiss! What a fantastic post! The David Spade/child molester line jolted my funny bone so I spilled my drink. You owe me a coffee...and a new shirt...I'll take a Rush concert t-shirt circa "Hemispheres", 3/4 length sleeves if ya can find one. I like Beck, he's okay, his live "Nobody's Fault..." for KCRW ranks as one of my fave trax of all time...thanks for having a "real" take on Beck, tired of constant "Beck Worship". He is incredible, but like Neil (think "Trans"), there can be the occasional "not so good"..take care, Jeff! E.

At 1:09 PM, Blogger Joshua said...

There is no Beck. Only Xenu.

At 1:50 PM, Blogger Onetokenblackguy said...

Wow man I had totally forgotten about that Midnite Vultures concert, but looking back on it, there's so much to remember from it. I was in high school and though I had no car or significant other I begged for two tickets to Beck's Midnite Vultures show at the Greek for my birthday. I wound up surprising this cool chick I knew from my art class and invited her along for free simply because she too adored her some Beck. I believe the night we went was Cinco De Mayo and Cafe Tacuba opened and yes, Beck killed Debra and sexed it up with the queen size bed bit. Good times. Thanks for reminding me.

At 3:49 PM, Blogger Duke said...

it's gotten to the point where i'll turn down tickets to see beck at the echo. i hear he's laid down some tracks with this band.

At 6:31 PM, Blogger Satisfied '75 said...

he lives in w. hollywood now right?

At 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post. and in a completely unrelated topic...

are you still involved with the Fairfax bball league? I hear it's starting up again soon. how can one get the details on that?


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