Beck returned to the stage Monday night for his first major gig since 2008 to close out Sasquatch! Fest at the Gorge Amphitheater in Washington State. How'd he fare? Well...
...At first, not so good. But the boho rocker and his longtime band of veteran studio hands warmed up over the two-hour headlining gig, and the set, though rough, came to exemplify what Beck has refused to do for the past 20 years: Stop evolving and get comfy.
Like the prize at the end of the weekend, Beck was highly anticipated by the Sasquatch concertgoers. In past years, the Monday night crowd has been thin as many left early to get home for a solid night of sleep before returning to work Tuesday. Not this time. The Gorge was still packed when Beck took the stage at 10 P.M. sharp. He strolled up in his classic duds--skinny jeans, heeled Beatle boots, black leather jacket and a big-brimmed black hat--and blasted into the three-song suite of "Black Tambourine," "Devil's Haircut" and "Loser." From the first note, it was clearly Beck's first show in four years. He flubbed lyrics and guitar parts, and looked nervous. But here's the thing...
Four years is a lot of years and it's really, really tough to sing and play slide guitar simultaneously. I've seen Beck deliver all these songs with swagger and precision in the past, so he's clearly capable, but Monday night he was just... off (but, like, acceptably off; remember, this is Beck, the junkyard collector of pop, not Jack White). From there, though, the set got interesting.
Presumably to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Odelay, Beck busted out some deep cuts from that seminal release, including "Hot Wax" and "Sissyneck," neither of which I've ever seen him perform before. Ballsy, especially for a first gig back. He could've phoned it in with just the straight hits, pushing lead guitar duty onto another lackey. But that's not Beck's style.
He later introduced the band, which he said was the same crew that recorded his 2002 heartbreaker Sea Change, then kicked off a series of songs from album. His performance of "The Golden Age," the album's crushing opening track, and "Lost Cause," sounded ABSOLUTELY 100 PERCENT PERFECT. In the eight-plus times I've seen Beck they've never sounded so ... bright and touching.
They also sounded different; the lead guitar was more jazz than country. And Beck and Co. completely reconfigured "Paper Tiger," another Sea Change stand out, into a crunchy blues number. Totally unexpected; totally inspiring. He did the same with a pair of tracks from 2008's Modern Guilt--"Gamma Ray," which charged with a snappier, punkier vibe than before, and the title track, which sounded like a '60s Britpop sing-along.
People joke, including one concertgoer that SPIN overheard, that Beck is the Bob Dylan of the '90s. When he re-imagines his catalogue like this, that comparison isn't exactly a stretch.
After his Modern Guilt tour in 2008, Beck decided he needed a direction change: He produced albums for his buddies Stephen Malkmus, Thurston Moore and Charlotte Gainsbourg; he curated and performed in Record Club, his covers project featuring versions of complete albums by The Velvet Underground, Leonard Cohen and more performed on the fly. He's also contributed music to the soundtracks of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, True Blood and most recently Jeff Who Lives At Home.
While he could probably spend a little more time rehearsing, Beck is hard at work, and you've got to start somewhere. Everyone has a first show back. The good news is that he's returning to the live game, and clearly revving up for some project. Thank you, Beck, for allowing us to ask: What's next?