UNIVERSAL CITY, California — Beck, Pete Yorn and the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne crashed KCRW-FM’s A Sounds Eclectic Evening on Saturday, aiding announced performers like Norah Jones and Blackalicious in celebrating the influential radio station’s diverse play list.
Nothing could top Beck and Coyne’s duet of “I Got You Babe” — or, as they sang it, “I Got You Beck”/”I Got You Wayne” — but inspired sets by Aimee Mann, Beth Orton, Zero 7 and the rest of the lineup came awfully close.
The concert, named after the National Public Radio station’s flagship “Morning Becomes Eclectic” show, lacked the intimacy of last year’s inaugural show at the Wiltern Theater (see “Ozomatli Turn Singer/Songwriter Showcase Into Hip-Hop Salsa Party” ), but proved that bigger can be better, especially if the bigger is in the caliber of talent.
Even though he only sang four songs, all covers, Beck’s performance gave the event at the Universal Amphitheatre just the touch of mainstream — and humor — it needed.
Ramsay Midwood opened the show with a short set of “country gospel to take your seat to,” as the Woody Guthrie-inspired singer/songwriter put it.
Blackalicious followed, igniting the audience with socially conscious hip-hop made more fun by Chief Xcel’s carnival beats and two backup singers’ soulful voices. Gift of Gab, who has a gift for doing just about anything on a microphone (think Eminem with a heftier voice), carried the collective through most of their Blazing Arrow, although the highlight was a 26-verse freestyle that went through the alphabet one verse per letter.
With the capacity audience on its feet, Kinky took the revolving stage and charged right into the inventive rocktronica that earned them a Latin Grammy nomination. While drummer Omar Gongora made bongo beats fit for Shakira, singer Gilberto Cerezo and Carlos Chairez wailed on their guitars as if they were the Kinkies.
Cerezo, who used serious vocal effects to capture the trance vibe on Kinky’s self-titled debut, was a natural stage presence, with subtle dance steps as sexy as the band’s music. Meanwhile, bassist Cesar Pliego showed moves like Les Claypool, pacing the stage in a cowboy hat.
Next was Mann, in a black suit and tie and white sneakers, and a four-piece band that added depth to the low-key songs on Lost in Space. Mann didn’t play her 1985 ‘Til Tuesday hit “Voices Carry,” like she sometimes does, but she did treat listeners to the “Magnolia” soundtrack’s “Save Me.”
Yorn, a highlight at last year’s A Sounds Eclectic Evening, made his surprise appearance after Mann, covering Velvet Underground’s “New Age” and debuting the new song “Turn of the Century” from his upcoming album, which he said is due next year. Yorn, in full beard, opted for a romantic set, playing acoustic guitar with just Joe Kennedy on Rhodes piano, and closing with the goose-bumps ballad “Just Another,” from his debut, Musicforthemorningafter.
Orton followed, accompanied only by cello and standup bass. Opening with “She Cries Your Name,” the British singer then showcased the electro-folk songs on Daybreaker, including “Concrete Sky.”
After a few Flaming Lips videos played on the screens, KCRW program director Nic Harcourt, credited with helping break bands like Coldplay and R.E.M., introduced Coyne, who then brought out Beck and laughed more than he sang for Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe.”
The duo, currently touring together as separate acts, then tackled Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings’ outlaw anthem “Good Hearted Woman,” despite the fact that Beck and Coyne are hardly bad boys, Coyne joked.
Beck then began a duet party of his own, beginning with Orton on a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations.” Jones then joined the alternative rock icon for a rendition of the country standard “Sleepless Nights.”
The best was saved for last, however, as Beck and Zero 7′s Sia Furler joined forces for the unlikely “Grease” favorite “You’re the One I Want.” Although their version was much slower than the original, they sang it with all the cheesy attitude of John Travolta and Olivia Newton John’s version.
Jones had a tough act to follow when she returned for her own set, but her sultry voice quickly won over the crowd, who gave a standing ovation after one song. Ravi Shankar’s daughter left out a few gems from her breakthrough album, Come Away With Me, most notably “Feelin’ the Same Way,” but made up for it with her cover of the Band’s “Bessie Smith.” Of course, “Don’t Know Why” was the audience favorite, especially the longer piano intro she added.
Zero 7 closed the show with a set that combined chill-out trip-hop with classic R&B. Furler and Sophie Barker each showcased their stylish vocals alone, before teaming up for “Destiny.”
After the main show, hundreds piled into a tent outside the venue to hear DJ sets from Thievery Corporation and DJ Shadow. The latter roused the house early by playing “Jam Master Jay” and saluting the late hip-hop pioneer.
“Morning Becomes Eclectic” can be heard online at www.kcrw.com.
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