Beck Hysteria Rocks Bumbershoot Festival

SEATTLE, Wash. -- Long before Beck even made it out onto the stage, officials had closed the stadium to any more people coming in. Those on the inside got there early. Those on the outside were out of luck.

"We've been here since 2 p.m.," 15-year-old Courtenay Brousard said. "It always gets bigger every year, and we knew this was gonna be big." It was now close to 9 p.m. and the natives were restless. "We want Beck!" chants could be heard circling the stadium.

The finishing touches were being added to Seattle's Bumbershoot stage Saturday night. Then suddenly, the lights were dropped and there appeared a roar from the crowd like I had never heard. Security guards in the pit were already having trouble as streams of sweaty moshed youth were being pulled over the barriers to escape death or just to get a little closer to the young man onstage. "It’s just Beck," I thought.

The one and only time I had seen Beck before was the Tibetan Freedom Concert last year in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Then, he had just played an acoustic guitar accompanied by a little harmonica. It was hardly the stuff 15-year-old girls go crazy for. This time, however, was quite a different story. Beck, short-haired and clean shaven, appeared onstage with his entourage in a dizzying display of light and sound, dancing and squirming about the floor like a fish that's jumped out of its bowl. Decked in a white linen suit and blue ascot, he made quite a few leaps and spins to the crowd's enjoyment.

Occasionally he would pull some John Travolta-esque finger in the air disco move a la Saturday Night Fever and with each twist came a shriek from the crowd. His guitarist (an Elvis Costello look-alike) and horn section were bouncing licks off of each other and watching as Beck pranced across the stage. His face had the look of a deer caught in the highway headlights. A nod to his DJ behind him and suddenly the 25,000 fans were screaming as they recognized his first song, "Devil's Haircut."

His voice was strong and under the lights he appeared to glow. Beck and his band's movements were at times calculated, arms and heads moving like tiny robotic rock stars. Maybe it was because this was to be Beck’s last live show before re-entering the studio for a follow-up to the mega-successful Odelay, or perhaps it was because the 25,000 or so fans squashed into the stadium were yelling at the top of their lungs, but Beck and company were determined to put on a hell of a show.

The crowd was an odd mix of 20-something disparate youth and teenybopper girls, along with the occasional person looking old enough to remember a time before Beck. Not all were happy though; as twisted bodies and mangled forms were dragged over the stage barricade by the burly security guards, some were crying in pain and still others clutching their injured arms and limping on twisted ankles. One man in the front row screamed out at Beck during a break, "You suck! Play some real instruments..." At one point, I turned around and there were 30 or 40 kids in the photographer’s pit. Guards were trying to push them all out the sides, but there were so many that some had time to pull out their disposable cameras and get in a few quick shots.

Beck, sensing things getting out of control, tried to calm down the masses in front . "You guys gotta be careful out there!" he said. "It’s just a concert, no one should be getting hurt." It had little effect. Rounding out the band’s tight as a tourniquet set, Beck paid homage to his earlier self with his first big hit "Loser" and reveled in his new found stardom with "Where It's At." Both got rousing responses from the crowd who didn't stopped bouncing until the last note.

Tragically, while all of this mirth and mysticism swirled over what to many is certainly a musical prince dancing and singing his hits on a small stage in Seattle, in another country, on another continent a real princess was dead. [Fri., Sept. 5, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]