NEW YORK -- He may not have been serious when he said it, but
Beck's recent choice of pseudonym may be more on the mark than he realizes.
"I am The Artist Currently Known As Beck," he proclaimed from the stage of
Long Island, N.Y.'s Jones Beach Theatre last Thursday.
The purely unpredictable and surreal rock superstar has been likened to
everyone from folk-rock legend Bob Dylan to the rap-punk pioneers Beastie
Boys. But he unintentionally suggested the more appropriate comparison
during his wildly diverse and acrobatic stage show at the beach-side theater.
Over the course of the nearly two-hour-long show, which he described as "our
last real show for about a year," Beck demonstrated that, much like The Artist
Formerly Known As Prince, he is capable of leaping effortlessly between genres
and past musical boundaries. And like no guitar-wielding star since The Artist,
Beck dares to dance onstage, often with unexpected grace.
And like The Artist, Beck appropriated rock-star iconography: During what he
called a "rock block," which included the likes of "Fuckin' With My Head," he
slashed at his Silvertone guitar like Keith Richards and played a guitar solo that
employed the Eddie Van Halen-popularized technique of two-handed
Later, he flamboyantly humped both the floor and his own amplifier.
"He's like a combination of everything," said Liz Fowler, a 32-year-old
Manhattan resident. "I think from the way [he and the band] played tonight, they
could become something really incredible and get a really big following."
But the show was about much more than showmanship. It was about a
continually maturing artist with a powerful sense of humor and personality.
During the concert, Beck, who has grown his hair out into a shag recalling the
long, curly locks of '70s rock idol Peter Frampton, confirmed the impending
release of a new album of "folk and country stuff" and debuted two of the
album's songs, "Dead Melodies" and "Sing It Again" (for more information on
this album, titled Mutations, see the article in SonicNet Music
News from June 8).
Both new tunes were in a folk/country vein, but Beck's strong vocals and
melodic harmonica solos and his band's confident, low-key accompaniment
made them sound more like outtakes from Neil Young's classic Harvest
than the primitive folk of Beck's own One Foot in the Grave.
Beck and his band (guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, horn section and DJ) played
a number of other tracks that have yet to be officially released, including the
"Girl From Ipanema"-style instrumental "Tropicale," and the concert staple "I
Wanna Get With You," a goofy yet dramatic Marvin Gaye-inflected R&B ballad
on which Beck displayed an amazingly capable falsetto.
Beck's band also played hefty, crowd-pleasing chunks of both Mellow
Gold and Odelay, most of which were heavily rearranged in order to
feature the band and to allow Beck room to freestyle and interact with the crowd
in the crazed loverman/faux-B-boy persona he maintained for most of the show.
"I'm steppin', like Chico El DeBarge," he shouted in one typically Dadaesque
(RealAudio excerpt), which opened the show, was intentionally over-slick: Beck
crooned the chorus line like a Vegas lounge singer. "Novocaine," meanwhile,
managed to segue into a sing-along of the chorus of Eddy Grant's '80s relic
"Electric Avenue." The show-closing version of
HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Beck/Where_It's_At.ram">"Where It's At"
At"(RealAudio excerpt) transformed the song from the slacker hip-hop
of the record into spot-on Stax/Volt soul, complete with "Soul Man" horn riffing
and Booker T.-style organ wailing.
Ben Folds Five opened the show with a set even more aggressive than the
similarly concise and hit-filled one they had played at the same venue less than
two weeks before. Somehow, on pumped-up versions of
"Philosophy"(RealAudio excerpt) and "Song for the Dumped," their
unique power-trio lineup of piano, bass and drums managed to achieve
something of the propulsive force of the Who in their Live at Leeds prime,
while the band's harmony vocals reached toward the pop perfection of the
Singer/songwriter and Oscar nominee Elliott Smith preceded Ben Folds Five
onstage, playing to a house that was no more than a quarter full. He was
backed by the Washington-based punk duo Quasi, who occasionally
overpowered his delicate, often lovely melodies with their indie-rock bashing.
Still, Smith was enthusiastically received by the sparse, scattered crowd.
Fans approached after the show seemed impressed most by Beck's set. "It was
really diverse. I had no idea [Beck] was that talented," said Josh Bong, a 19-
year-old Oregon resident working in New York for the summer who initially
came to the show to see Ben Folds Five.
Prompted by a friend to repeat an earlier comment, Caitlin Macy, a 27-year-old
Manhattanite, called Beck's show a "tour de force."
But you can call it a piece of live magic brought to you by The Artist Currently
Known As Beck.