Another season of wonderful shows at the Hollywood Bowl draws to an end, and this time, we find ourselves seeing Beck in all of his glory. Playing a show largely without openers—mxdwn fav St. Vincent opened performing a DJ set under a new St. Vicious moniker—tonight Beck performed a full two hours. That’s unusual at the Hollywood Bowl given the venue’s strict curfews, but the lack of the usual two opening sets provided for a longer block of time. For those keeping score, this was a far better show from Beck compared to his previous headlining show at the Hollywood Bowl, which amazingly was just nine days more than exactly ten years ago. That show featured a small component with a portion of the LA Philharmonic with Beck’s father conducting. It ended with “E-Pro” but quite literally, thousands of hipsters present only for the then-exploding MGMT seemed to care very little for the show and talked over most of it. Tonight, this was a packed house filled with serious Beck fans, eager to dance and sing along.
He started strong, leading with rocking versions of Odelay classics “Devil’s Haircut” and “New Pollution.” Each song still brims over with the inventive and fearless production that Beck and The Dust Brothers immaculately wove within them all those years ago. It may sound hard to imagine given all the culture that has come since, but there was a point in the mid ‘90s where this material was mind-blowing. Beck and his seven-piece band followed that up with Midnite Vultures classic “Mixed Business.” Unlike most tours Beck has done in previous years, this show utilized an insanely intricate backing video wall and light rig. Nearly every song featured an orgy of flashing colors and white lights. This being one of the last shows behind a long year of touring behind Beck’s most recent album, Colors, the first song of five from that album followed, “Up All Night.”
The 2005 release Guero was also well represented in this set, “Que Onda Guero” coming next (followed later on by excellent singles “E-Pro” and “Girl”). For a brief segment, Beck returned to the stage solo with only an acoustic guitar. He humorously strummed out a stripped-down rendition of his masterpiece “Debra.” In this rendition, he took his time loosely following the song’s progression so that he could tell numerous stories about different areas of Los Angeles, and amazingly, apparently also lots of the details about the real woman who worked in Glendale (the Northeast area of Los Angeles) named Debra. He even fully mutated the song into a cover of Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” explaining that as this woman and he drove around the city, that song came on and she really loved it. The band returned for a lively rendition of “Nicotine & Gravy” (complete with small snippets of “Cellphone’s Dead” and Prince’s “Kiss”) before playing two more songs from Colors, “I’m So Free” and “Dear Life.” The Colors-era (Greg Kurstin-produced) material has a simpler and more pristine production than the intricate, vintage songs that made Beck famous, but the enthused crowd present paid no mind. These new cuts had the crowd on their feet dancing with exuberant joy.
As a special treat, Fred Martin & the Levite Camp (a group of choral singers) were brought out center stage to join Beck. Together, they performed an evolved cover of a super-old and little-played song on Beck’s early career album One Foot in the Grave entitled “Fourteen Rivers, Fourteen Floods.” They followed that up with a spirited cover of gospel song “Like a Ship (Without a Sail).” Beck introduced it—in an apparent nod to this week’s contentious Senate interviews with Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh—by stating, “I know these have been some weird times and it’s been a rough week. But I have faith we’re gonna make it. Sometimes it feels like we’re a ship without a sail. But we can shake it and we can make it.” Another special treat was the band changing to a front stage right version as an all-acoustic quintet. There, they played soulful versions of Sea Change cut “Lost Cause,” Morning Phase cut “Blue Moon” and even a small bit of Mellow Gold deep cut “Truckdrivin Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat).”
From there it was a blazing series of numbers en route to the set’s finale: “Dreams,” “Girl” and the final Colors song of the night “Wow.” The set proper ended with his career-creating mega-hit “Loser” which had the entire capacity crowd singing word for word. After “E-Pro” ended the set proper, the band returned for a trademark mega jam on Beck’s biggest hit, “Where It’s At.” As Beck introduced his crack band of musicians (Dwayne Moore on bass, Jason Falkner on guitar, Roger Joseph Manning Jr. on keyboards, Chris Coleman on drums and a trio he playfully referred to as the B-53’s: Jake Sinclair, Alex Lilly and Cecilia Della Peruti on backing vocals) he gave each a chance to play a fun portion of a popular song. Falkner awesomely played The Rolling Stone’s “Miss You” while everyone in the whole seemed to know to replace the song’s melody with singing his name. Manning dedicated his portion to former band member Justin Meldal-Johnsen and did the opening to the New Order classic “Blue Monday.” The B-53’s did a send-up of the Talking Heads’ “Same As It Ever Was” replacing all the words to references to Beck’s songs. Finally, Beck brought everything back to the finale of “Where It’s At” using a segment of his long-used live staple “One Foot in the Grave” before the main song’s final bars.
It’s nearly impossible to poke holes in a show like this. Beck’s career and catalog are now—after thirteen studio albums in as many years—just dauntingly vast. His array of hits rival those of Prince whom he obviously counts as a major influence. But most importantly, the crowd loved this show. It was fun, playful and artistic in just the right ways they needed.
File photo by Brett Padelford