Did Beck's Band (and Hat) Upstage Him on SNL?
We all get by with a little help from our friends, but surprise cameos during the musical guest performances on Saturday Night Live don't happen all too frequently. The Imagine Dragons/Kendrick Lamar reprise was a welcome one when they played SNL last month, and that had more to do with Kendrick saving the godawful arena gods from themselves with the addition of his verse than anything else. This week, with Beck, we got a similar distraction with appearances from Josh Tillman--aka Father John Misty--and Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. formerly of Jellyfish. Between the hat that Beck stole from the set of Witness, the symphonic, dirge-like quality of "Wave" and a bit of an identity crisis on hand for those fans who'd rather listen to Odelay on repeat or not acknowledge Beck's life after "Loser," we've got a bit of a bear on our hands to figure out, because Beck on SNL was one of the more surreal and true-to-life performances the show has seen in recent memory.
So, first things first: Morning Phase just saw its release last week, a record that fans have been eagerly anticipating for years now, and "Blue Moon," its out-the-gate single, was what he brought to the SNL table first, along with a mandolin and Tillman and Manning in tow. The beachy, breezy feel recalls Beck's SoCal roots and went over fine with nary a bad note, with Beck effortlessly scaling the higher reaches of his vocal register and synching up perfectly with the pro-est of back-up singers he could feasibly assemble. There's something not quite right about "Blue Moon," though, in that the spotlight seems to be glaring down at Beck, and he--and the band--play to their audience, not the studio audience assembled before them. This is the kind of song you'd rave about if you caught it as one of the final songs in his set at a packed, sweaty venue after you'd heard every song you wanted to hear off of Sea Change that he can bring himself to work into his live set. It banks on musicality and chemistry that doesn't necessarily translate to the television screen, and so it falls flat--and it's not Beck's fault.
Same goes for the gorgeous, ethereal orchestral production that Beck assembled for "Wave." Meditative, exquisitely arranged, a leeeettle heavy on the vocal reverb, Beck used the SNL stage in a way entirely his own. We haven't seen that kind of departure since Kanye turned the lights out for "Black Skinhead" and its infamous slideshow, and we're hoping this precedent--where artists think outside the soundstage when it comes to prepping for a late night musical guest spot--will become more of a trend in coming seasons.
Bottom line: Beck's SNL set was enjoyable, but if it's any indication as to how Morning Phase will work its way into his live repertoire, we'd rather wait for the dank and dirty rock club, because "Wave" in that setting? That'd be straight-up transcendental.
So how are people feeling about the new Beck, and the additions of Father John Misty and Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. to his SNL set? Alright, but they seem to be a lot more interested in discussing his Amish sartorial tendencies and how closely he seems to be resembling David Spade these days...