The Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Beck Concert
United Palace Theater
Thursday, October 9
photos by Rebecca Smeyne
1. Give ‘em hell.
The United Palace Theatre is a beautifully preserved, showy spectacle—gilded cathedral ceilings, Romanesque/Byzantine molding, dusty statues of weeping deities. By day, it prompts bowed heads and awed hush—though at 9pm on a Thursday, it greets precariously stacked beer and a monolithic hipster traffic jam in the lobby.
It is an ostentatious, demanding venue that suggests grave formality, from the assigned seating to the crabby ushers. So when Beck takes the stage, clad unassumingly in his current JT Leroy persona (plaid shirt, fedora, shoulder-length stringy hair), it is a relief that he wants to please the crowd immediately. He does this by opening with “Loser” remixed with mighty guitar distortion—and not running for cover when the entire venue explodes.
2. Be modest.
Beck Hansen will speak to the audience twice in an hour and a half, both times to briefly thank the audience for trolling all the way to 175th Street. His very attractive backing band will never say a word or even breathe loudly. But they quickly create an infectious atmosphere and smile with enthusiasm through comparatively newer songs (“Girl,” “Nausea,” “Think I’m in Love”). The light installation behind them—a million tiny points of light, pulsing in geometric shapes—is a tasteful compliment.
Also, dude is tiny.
3. Look like a pilot.
Why are Beck and the entire band standing at the edge of the stage with awkward mic headsets and looping pedals? Because they’re remixing “Hell Yes” live. It’s twitchy, eccentric, and strangely affecting, like watching Martians try to fathom electronica. Not that they (or anyone) can, though.
4. Keep suspense high.
More than halfway through the set, the Theatre’s atmosphere is joyous but there’s an elephant in the room: why hasn’t Beck played anything from his latest album, Modern Guilt? It’s an eerie, Danger Mouse-produced flourish on 60’s British psychedelic rock, and a clever execution.
He does eventually, and times it well—the nervous energy of those songs shifts the previously entirely upbeat concert into a slower, more meditative pace. The title track’s lilting, skittish beat (replete with new high harmonies from his female guitarist) calms the pogo-ing audience, and they watch him more intently through the shrill strings of “Walls” (prerecorded) and the plaintive sighs of “Chemtrails.” Then he samples the complete, abject heartbreak of Sea Change (2002) with “Lost Cause.” This is when the air starts to smell like reefer—because, hey, we’ve all been there.
5. Don’t self-edit.
Since Mellow Gold’s debut in 1994, Beck has confidently rewritten our expectations and his image with every album. He’s like Madonna, only you can still admit to liking him. His set list pulls from almost all of his ten releases and his myriad styles: the spazzy trip-hop-rock hybrid of Mellow Gold and Odelay (1996) the slacker-pop of Guero (2005), the equally odd remixes of Guerolito (2005), the uneasy dance of The Information (2006), etc. It’s an eclectic sampling put through a heavier guitar-rock filter and, removed from the sad bastard interlude, sounds pretty logical. His voice is unwavering and the mixing is clean—every maracas shake sings. The confetti lights behind him grow in complexity to reflect sundials, crowded sidewalks, and what appear to be pulsating doughnuts.
6. Just rap. You know you want to.
Near the end, Beck starts a slow, inexplicable shuffle away from center spotlight. He ambles to the outskirts of the stage and stands there happily in a confusing, John McCain moment. But then he hands over his guitar and grabs a mic to spit “Que Onda Guero,” so all is forgiven.
7. Don’t rain on the parade.
The band wraps up with “Where It’s At,” pounding the bassline past all reason and jerking maniacally. It’s a logical ending and they could’ve let it crash in finality, but that would’ve been a little mean to the rabid audience. Beck and company return, fairly quickly, with a four-song encore that includes “Gamma Ray” (a peppy surf-rocker from Modern Guilt)—and if they hadn’t, it would have been incongruous with the jubilant environment they created.
Bonus. Don’t bring back the puppets.
Thanks for that. Those were creepy. —Stacey Anderson