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.