Beck Is God!

Our critic sees the light. Photo by Jay Blakesberg.

Prior to Thursday, Oct. 10, at 9:15 P.M., I did not
believe it possible for Beck to stage a live performance of his recent material
that could come close to rivaling the flawless execution he displayed in his
most recent LP, Odelay. One hundred minutes later I was proven entirely
wrong. From his opening toast to the packed house with “Devil’s Haircut,” to
his frenzied finale with “High Five,” Beck surprised, stunned, shocked, and
absolutely dazzled the crowd with his 20-song, 95 minute show. A masterful
performer in the studio, Beck proved himself also to be a thrilling and
captivating performer on stage as well. Beck can groove, all
right.

Following the 30 minute performance by opening act Sukia, a mediocre
noise-band produced by the Dusts Brothers (they produced Odelay) whose
set peaked when its saxophonist stripped down to his birthday suit, violating
Warfield house rules and finally attracting a crowd, Beck leapt onto the stage
with the enthusiasm of a puppy chasing a tennis ball. “We are gonna touch the
funk tonight!” he exclaimed to the crowd. “Here is a toast to you
all!”

After gently admonishing the audience not to slam dance (a gesture
that converted more than one Warfield security employee to Beck fandom), the
compact, dishwater blonde musician, dressed in swanky baggy cotton suit, burst
into his new single, “Devil’s Haircut.” Replacing the dubbed synth lines on his
CD with extra hip hop drum beats and bass, Beck let the mostly white,
preppy-hippie crowd know “where he’s at” with this show — funk, da beat,
hip-hop folk — genres Beck has embraced with enthusiasm and to which he has
genuinely contributed a unique spin…



Beck followed his strong opener with three more
high-energy hip hop funk tunes, including a dramatic bass-laden “Novacane” and
the bluegrassy-country-yet unmistakably Dust-Brothers influenced “Hotwax.” In
between numbers, Beck reminded the crowd to “dig on the bass line,” and even
gave loud tribute to what he cited as one of his earlier influences — (ha! I
knew it!) — Color Me Badd, even going as far as confessing that at least one
of his songs is a direct “I Wanna Sex You Up” rip-off. “All sorts of funk
tonight!” he gleefully cheered.

“I’m going to engage in some strumming
now,” Beck forewarned, and started into a high-energy version of “Lord Only
Knows” that makes his CD version of the song appear easy-going and casual.
“We’re gonna get this shit lit like a Menorah!” he promised, and followed
through accordingly.

The accelerated version of “Lord Only Knows,” of
course, served primarily as a lead-in to the first true exclamatory peak of the
show: “The New Pollution.” “This is the new different type of funk,” Beck
promised, as the children’s-tune lyrical intro of this groundbreaking single
filled the house. Two modest primary-colored square-blinking light boards on
both sides of the stage lit up Beck’s soulful, loud, and enthusiastic live
performance of “Pollution,” which Beck twanged with a vengeance as he leapt
around playfully on stage. If Beck was not enjoying himself, he sure fooled
me.

With “Pay No Mind,” Beck segued into a six-song solo acoustic set.
Proving yet again his genius versatility, Beck strummed, harmonica’d, and
crooned in his distinctive soulful voice the much loved favorite from his
One Foot in the Grave K Records LP, “Asshole.” He slid seamlessly
through “Truckdrivin Neighbors Downstairs” (“It’s just the shit kickin/ speed
takin/ truckdrivin neighbors downstairs”), into a Harmonica-powered “Girl
Dreams” (“You’re just the girl of my dreams/ But it seems that my dreams never
come true”). Attributing “One Foot In The Grave” (from Stereopathic
Soulmanure
) to its inspiration, Sonny Terry, Beck sang a cappella,
accompanied only by enthusiastic foot-stomping and occasional hooting — a
stunning display of what one remarkably talented musician can do by himself,
with only one foot and one harmonica.

He wrapped up the acoustic set (which
I could have listened to forever) with a dreamy lounge hip hop folksy (only
with Beck could I place those adjectives together) version of his soulful
ballad “Jackass,” bringing his band back onto stage to contribute sounds made
by African shaker instruments, steel pan toinging, and wood shaker grating. (A
fun game to play during any given Beck concert is “name that instrument.” From
the audience it is nearly impossible to identify all of the utensils Beck and
his band employ to play guitar and bass, as well as to create drumlike beats
and shaker sounds.) This truly monumental acoustic set made clear that Beck is
not only a hip hop funkster, but remains, fundamentally, a great folk musician
who in time may be compared to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Woody Guthrie (one of
Beck’s admitted strongest inspirations).

Signaling the end to his acoustic
blues interlude, Beck instructed the crowd “to touch base with this funk … I
want you to hear all the bass!” and exploded into a joyous rendition of the
first hit single from Odelay, “Where It’s At,” complete, even, with a
modified line dance performed on stage by Beck, his guitarist “Smokestack”
(Smokey Hormel) and his bassist “Candy Boots” (Justin Mendal-Johnson). Beck
proved himself nothing if not a masterful performer who uses his live
performances to go miles beyond his complex and flawless studio-mixed
tracks.

Suddenly, a rap bass beat exploded onto to the stage with the
ferocity of a Public Enemy “Give It Up” remix. “Are you ready for da disco
ball?” Beck warned, “This is how we do it …. ” and he hit head on what was
the second high-paced energy highlight of the show: “Flavor,” done up in as
much pizzazz as his groundbreaking release on the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion:
Experimental Remixes record with Mike D. A kaleidoscope of Ol’ Dirty Bastard
meets hardcore Beastie Boys meets Black Flag meets Blues Explosion meets
(believe it) Woody Guthrie, this performance stunned the audience and knocked
me off of my feet. If there is any truth in the rumor that Beck intends to tour
with Jon Spencer, we have a hell of a lot to look forward to, to say the
least.

After a perfectly executed upbeat bluegrass rendition of
“Sissyneck,” which featured the concert’s only drums solo (to the tune of Beck
wailing at the final notes), Beck broke into the third highlight of the show, a
haunting dreamy, unbelievably moving version of his genius tune, “Derelict.”
For this number Beck was joined by a guest musician whom he introduced as
“Ralph,” who contributed sounds from an unidentified horn (which he had called
“Absynnian horn” to me backstage), as well as a six-foot long shofar-looking
African pipe he called a “bubbitz.” “This is the funk,” Beck explained. No,
Beck, this is your funk … a funk unlike any that has been heard
before; a funk that dazzles and shines.

Beck ended his set with the
crowd-pleasing “Beercan,” in which he knelt, squealed “Ahhh, yeh” in his
trademark falsetto, kicked, jumped, and “shook in his boots,” playfully ran
like a “shaking pig,” and even (yes!) break-danced and flipped up, before being
carried off the stage.

But not for long. A few minutes later, Beck
returned, wearing his silver-glittered cowboy suit, and fulfilled his promise
of the “slow jam”: “I Want to Get With You, and Your Sister Deborah.” Singing
in a high toned falsetto to bongo beats and a keyboard-laden background
reminiscent of “Afternoon Delight,” Beck crooned and spoke, “I wanna get with
you, only you …. ” and then broke into tears. A performance only topped by
the show’s grand finale.

With the power of NWA, with the force of a young
James Brown, with the charisma of no one but his very own self, Beck let it
lose and exploded into “High Five (Rock the Catskills).” He jumped, he rapped,
he drew back in mocked terror after synth-instructed to “Turn that shit off,
man! What’s wrong with you? Man, get the other record! Damn!” He even — to my
amazement — compelled the entire crowd to scream “Ooh, la la,
sassoon!”

What is truly amazing about Beck is his mastery of so many genres
of music — bluegrass, country, blues, jazz, rap, Latin, soul, funk, and even
punk — and his ability to mix, blend, and leap genre so seamlessly. Every song
is an experiment in creativity; a celebration of the diversity in, and
universality of, great music at the same time. Accompanied by his brilliant
supporting band — guitarist Smokestack, drummer Stagecoach (Joey Waronker),
keyboardist Hounddog (Theo Mondle), and Candy Boots (bass) — and his divine
stage presence, Beck is an artist of the 21st century. And one who not only
remembers, but pays tribute to, his roots.

Beck is not a fly-by-night 90’s
trend musician, who will hit the scene and shortly disappear. He is a true
musician in every sense of the word, and his genre-hopping trademark brilliance
has already made a mark on 20th century music as profound as some of the
greatest masters of his time. Amen.