Photo Credit: Brett Padelford
It was like the absurdism of a Beck song was unfolding before my eyes. Under a golden hue of corporate branding that drenched the Palladium Saturday night, Ron Jeremy, clad in green pants, walked in front of me. The show hadn’t even started, and things were starting to come clear.
Soon thereafter, with a pinch of Grammy weekend electricity in the air, the house lights dimmed and out came the diminutive man in black, Beck Hansen. Playing the “first show in Hollywood in a long time,” as part of the CITI Sound Vault series, Beck was de facto hometown host to a quite the mix of ticketholders that ranged from the faithful to a gang of disinterested guest listers.
It was that latter contingent that, despite the loud and proud bombast of uber-recognizable opener “Devil’s Haircut,” paid no mind to Beck’s request that everybody raise their arms and clap in unison. If there ever were an opportunity for soul-saving conversion, this was the night.
Despite the myriad upsides to a life of fame and fortune, it’s still got to be a drag to roll in to Anytown, U.S.A. and have to cue up your biggest hit that you’ve played hundreds and hundreds of times. But then Beck starts up “Loser” with that acoustic slide sample, and I am forced to rethink this axiom.
When the band approached the momentous pause in “Loser,” Beck reached up and mimed slitting his own throat as he commanded the band to “Cut it.” Then, during “The New Pollution,” he snapped the microphone cord like a whip to coincide with his delivery of the “like a whip crack sending me shivers” line.
These sort of miss ’em if you blink moments are Beck at his finest self. Ever the slacker wiseass, he went on to subtly zing the crowd about braving the night’s inclement weather (a light rain), Friday traffic, or to shout out immobile concertgoers holed up on VIP couches in the balcony.
But the music held its own. Drummer Joey Waronker snuck in masterfully placed drums fills to help sustain an organic feel to a set that includes a fair share of sampled electronica. Meanwhile, Beck proved all over again that his voice is bigger than his own body. “This town is crazy, nobody cares” he howled, on Sea Change heart killer, “Lost Cause.”
Before the night’s proceedings began, I discussed some of the Beck shows I have seen over the years with a friend. “Remember when the band sat and ate dinner and jammed songs using silverware on glasses?” We concluded that, “You never really know what you’re gonna get.” True to form, in the middle of the set, Beck brought out Fred Martin and the Urban Entertainment Institute, a gospel choir of about eight members.
These reinforcements took the night to places I’ve never journeyed with Beck. The gospel tune “Like a Ship (Without a Sail)” somehow fit in neatly next to One Foot Grave foot-stompin’ oldie, “Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods,” with Beck oft stepping aside to soak in the choir’s contributions, lay down some harmonica work, or to cut a bit of rug. A few times he feigned tearing off his blazer in moments of hysteria.
The choir’s multiple interwoven vocal parts effectively created ad hoc analog remix versions of Beck’s songs. From the choral swells in the desperate “Blue Moon,” to the cacophonous mosaic silliness of new single, “Wow,” it was an unlikely pairing, but one that definitely clicked.
The Urban Entertainment Institute rejoined Beck during the encore for a massive “Where It’s At” sendoff. The “two turntables and a microphone” refrain has defied the passage of time with its never-ending shelf life. It still, and probably always will, get a room going.
On Friday, it morphed in to a ten plus minute meat sandwich, with about seven of those minutes spent on a nifty medley of covers, including “Takin’ it to the Streets” and “1999.” During the latter, Beck introduced himself: “My name is Beck, the artist formerly known as Beck.”
The medley built to an apex with the onset the iconic beat of “Billie Jean” courtesy of Waronker and bassist Wayne Moore. As the band and choir moved to reprise “Where It’s At,” Beck finally shed his blazer. “That’s right,” he reminded everyone, “we’re still playing ‘Where It’s At’.”
The New Pollution
Que Onda Guero
I Think I’m in Love
Soul of a Man
Go It Alone
(enter choir til end of show)
Just Like a Ship Without a Sail
Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods
Where It’s At>
Takin’ It To the Streets>
One Foot in the Grave>
Where It’s At
All Photos by Brett Padelford