Beck - Prospect Park Bandshell - 8/4/13
Better Than: Streaming Lollapalooza on your laptop.
Aaron Frank Beck
"You wore me out," Beck told the crowd last night as he sat down on the stage near the end of his two-hour performance at Prospect Park Bandshell, as a benefit for the excellent Celebrate Brooklyn series. Considering the fact that during his lengthy set, the 43 year-old singer-songwriter drew from nearly every album in his massive catalog, the statement felt appropriate.
From classic party-starters like "Where It's At" and "Loser" to the reflective folk of Sea Change tracks like "Lost Cause," all the hits were well-represented. At times, it felt more like a 20 year retrospective on one of the most important artists of our generation rather than just a typical concert.
In the past two decades, Beck has incorporated nearly every genre into his music--from disco to country, and even lo-fi and post-punk most recently on Modern Guilt. But recently, he's alternated between acoustic and electric sets to varying degrees of success. By all accounts, his acoustic set at Le Poisson Rouge was phenomenal (then again, what big name artist isn't phenomenal in a 700 capacity venue?). On the other hand, his set at Newport Folk Festival seemed downright stale. With more than half of Beck's catalog, heavy rhythm is the instant appeal, and without that tracks like "Loser" go completely out the window.
Aaron Frank Binki Shapiro and Adam Green
Luckily, last night's performance was fully electric in more ways than one. For most of the crowd, however, openers Adam Green and Binki Shapiro seemed little more than background music. Originating from the same L.A. freak folk scene that Beck grew out of, the duo performed an hour-long set containing tracks from their self-titled debut, released earlier this year. While extremely polished and well-rehearsed, their unoriginal music leaves much to be desired.
There's a difference between integrating influences and acquiring them. A solid performer can hear an entire album and then play it back for you in their own unique way, while others will play it just as it sounds. I don't doubt their sincerity, but Adam Green and Binki Shapiro have incorporated Serge Gainsbourg's influence like sewing a patch onto a jacket. As a result, most of their music comes off like a bland nostalgic mish-mash of folk and French pop.
Beck may have twice as much as experience, but he's always been more adept at filtering influences through his own weird hillbilly hipster lens. As soon as the first few notes of "Devil's Haircut" hummed through the speakers, it was as if someone fired a gun in the air. Everyone's attention was drawn to the stage and it pretty much stayed there for the next two hours.
Aaron Frank Beck
Beck danced around on stage in a black Dior suit against the backdrop of a vibrantly colored lightshow, consisting of six large wheels that alternated between windmill and firework patterns. After the first four songs, all from separate albums, he broke out a sublime cover of "Tainted Love," which blended neatly into "Modern Guilt." During "Soldier Jane" the lights illuminated the trees surrounding the stage, highlighting the beauty of the venue.
Making the performance even more enjoyable was Beck's four-piece band, made up of musicians he collaborated with on Sea Change. During "Lost Cause," the instrumentation expanded to become even more soothing and atmospheric, with the musicians already instinctually familiar with the original composition.