Live: Beck Comes Out On Top Down Under

The eclectic rocker leads his eight-man band in more than an hour of funked-up hits and covers.

Melbourne, Australia -- Despite his small, slight stature, Beck is a

bigger than life entertainer. And sometimes when he's playing his music

onstage, he can be massive.

Whether he's strumming his acoustic for a small crowd at a local club or kicking

his heels onstage before thousands of his Australian fans as he did Sunday

night at The Forum Theater, he's always on, an American wonder-kid with a

funky flavor and a snazzy fashion sense. A man of mystery and of many varying

musical styles. A universally appealing performer.

Australian cartoon-popsters Custard got the evening started in an appropriately

chaotic manner with a short set predominantly from their recently released third

album, We Have The Technology. Although the Brisbane, Australia, five-

piece sadly neglected to play their cover of Beck's "Totally Confused" that

graces their latest album, they did include a couple of their older guitar-pop

classics such as "Pack Yr Suitcases" and "Leisuremaster" for good measure.

Shuffling onstage to the cut-up dance beats of DJ Swamp blasting out "Are You

Ready," Beck's band, immaculately attired in matching dark suits and ties,

played a classic intro -- very much in the tradition of showbiz warm-ups a

la James Brown and bordering on bossa-nova.

Then came the voice over the loudspeaker introducing to the center

microphone "the artist currently known as Beck."

Although pre-tour publicity boasted a 20-piece band, the eight-man outfit that

the 27-year-old superstar brought with him was more than enough to rock the

capacity crowd of 1,000 for an hour and a quarter. Wearing a dark, pinstriped

suit and basking under the shadow of an oversized mirror-ball, the slacker

prince pranced the stage like a demented preacher, urging the crowd to "get

down" and brandishing a whip to make some "ass move."

Kicking things off with a slightly slower version of his hit

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Beck/Devils_Haircut.ram">"Devil's

Haircut" (RealAudio excerpt), the band showed it was both musically

and physically tight, with Beck vogueing through "Novacane" and

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Beck/New_Pollution.ram">"New

Pollution" (RealAudio excerpt), featuring some stylishly

choreographed moves from guitarist Smokey "Smokestack" Hormel and bassist

Justin "Showboat" Meldal-Johnson.

The rest of the outfit was equally lean, particularly former Imperial Drag and

Jellyfish member Roger Manning on keyboards and drummer Joey

"Stagecoach" Waronker. Beck, on the other hand, appeared to be trying to

exorcise demons from his powder blue Silvertone, but all he succeeded in

releasing was the occasional discordant guitar solo.

With most of the night's material drawn from his most recent and highly diverse

Odelay record, it was hardly surprising that the set veered dramatically

between styles -- from the distorted power-grunge of "Thunder Peel" and the

dance beats of "Novacane" to the country rock of "Lord Only Knows." Set

highlight -- and a surprise inclusion -- "Loser," Beck's first big radio hit, was

even given an Eastern feel courtesy of some sitar sounds from turntable- and

sample-master DJ Swamp.

Leaving the stage while the band reprised its bossa-nova like intro, Beck

returned spectacularly attired in an all-white leather outfit, topped off by a white

sailor's cap. Slowing the pace a little with "Deadweight," his contribution to the

recent A Life Less Ordinary soundtrack, the mellow number provided a

perfect segue into an impressive, five-song solo-acoustic bracket. Launching

straight into "Hollow Log" from his One Foot In The Grave release, it was

surprising -- and a testament to Beck's showmanship -- how easily the crowd

adapted to such a dramatic change in mood and style, not to mention volume.

"Alcohol" was relatively well-received, but it was the cover of Jimmie Rodgers'

"Peach Pickin' Time Down In Georgia" that was a definite acoustic highlight, mainly

because it found Beck performing an incredibly earnest yodel -- and half the

crowd trying to mimic him. The brief solo-set concluded with a rollicking,

harmonica-only version of "One Foot In The Grave" that successfully regained

the up-tempo vibe by enticing the audience into foot-stomping accompaniment.

The rest of the band returned for "Jack-Ass" before the audience erupted in

recognition of the slinky keyboard introduction to set-closer and radio hit "Where

It's At." The song took off into stratospheric, funkadelic-styled heights while Beck

urged the crowd on with his cry of "C'mon robot people, it's time to get funky,"

and then backed it up with some amazing robot-man dance moves and James

Brown-like spins and leg splits.

In musical recognition of his performance, the two-piece sax and trumpet horn-

section drove the song on to a riveting, Famous Flames-esque finale.

With the crowd left on its feet and desperate for more, it wasn't long before the

foot-stomping and wolf-whistling met with results. A topless DJ Swamp returned

for a brief solo set of cut-up dance beats that included an amazing, guitar-less

cover of Deep Purple's classic "Smoke On The Water."

The rest of the band then marched back onstage, as if auditioning either for

"Spinal Tap" or a spot in George Clinton's P-Funk. Each was humorously clad

in bad heavy-metal wigs, wearing nothing but leather bondage-thongs and

chains. Beck, on the other hand, went for the comparatively conservative look of

skater zip-pants, a Lycra top and a sun-visor. It was surprising that the

bandmembers managed to keep a straight face, let alone play a blistering

version of "High 5 (Rock The Catskills)," inciting the crowd to sing-a-long with

the age-old jeans commercial refrain, "Ooh, la, la, Sassoon," to finish the set.

Beck's Australian/New Zealand tour takes in a couple of shows at Brisbane's

Festival Hall on Jan. 15 and 16 before heading back to Sydney for a show at

the Bondi Pavilion on Jan. 18 and two shows at the Enmore Theatre on Jan. 19

and 20. He then heads over to New Zealand to play the Auckland Town Hall on

Jan. 22 and the Wellington Town Hall on Jan. 23.

Color="#720418">[Fri., Jan. 16, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]