Beck was in constant motion, even engaging in some banter and directing a sing along with the enthusiastic, adoring audience.
The Peabody Opera House, St. Louis
Silverlake, California’s Beck is no longer the quirky oddity and hometown hero of the early ’90s. He burst onto the fertile alternative music airwaves in 1994 with the low-fi magic, hip-hop beats, slide guitar loop, and clever wordplay of “Loser.” Most critics and fans would have never predicted that young Beck Hansen would grow mature into a serious artist with a deep catalog, numerous hits, and even a Grammy or two. His sold-out, Friday-night show at St. Louis’s live music jewel, The Peabody Opera House, proved once again how vital, robust, and fresh his music is and how he can entertain a crowd. Beck is an artist with a capital “A.”
Beck wasted no time in bringing the assembled loyal fans to their collective feet, launching into his 1996 hit, “Devil’s Haircut” from Odelay. This song, as much as any, demonstrates Beck’s ability to mix metallic riffs, James Brown drum breaks, and funk into a winning mix. The accompanying videos and giant screens amplified the onstage energy and heightened the effect.
Beck and his crack band of industry pros effortlessly recreated songs from his deep catalog, with the frontman a dancing machine and whirling dervish of almost adolescent energy and kinetics. After revving the crowd with “Devil’s Haircut,” he launched into “Black Tambourine” and “Loser,” his trademark slacker anthem that still sounds fresh and more innovative than much of what passes for alternative these days.
It wasn’t all tongue in cheek and rave-ups, though, as Beck delved into some acoustic numbers like “Go It Alone” and “Paper Tiger” from his seminal 2002 release Sea Changes. His acoustic portion of the set showcased his diversity, depth, and maturity, and was a testament to his versatility, innovation, and ability to recreate his sound and define his own direction.
The 19-song set and amazing encore held the audience’s attention, getting them to sing along, dance in the aisles, and chill out to the acoustic-based numbers. Typically, and in the hands of a lesser artist, lighting and screen projections can be a distraction that’s not integrated well with the song’s vibe and storyline. In this case, the psychedelic images, designs, and motifs enhanced the overall concertgoing experience and raised it above the average, static show. Beck was in constant motion, even engaging in some banter and directing a sing along with the enthusiastic, adoring audience. It was evident from his beaming smile that he was having as much fun as the assembled audience of Beckheads.
He used his encore of “Where It’s At” to introduce the band and sneak covers song in for each member. Snippets of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields” segued into Chic’s “Good Times,” Bowie’s “China Girl,” Kraftwerk’s “Pocket Calculator,” and Prince’s party anthem “1999.” These were all mixed into “Where It’s At,” and used to allow Beck to introduce his crack band of musicians. Jellyfish’s and the Gray’s Jason Faulkner handled guitar duties and added some nice vocal harmonies. Former Jellyfish bandmate Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. (Imperial Drag and The Moog Cook Book) manned the keys. Drummer John Joseph Waronker was a master showman and sat behind a massive arsenal of white drums, complete with a gong. He flawlessly recreated many of the looped or sampled drums of Beck’s studio recordings. Beck’s new bassist held down the bottom and made the songs groove.
With Beck’s new album dropping on October 21 (Capitol Records) and the tour continuing throughout the fall, it’s safe to say that Beck fans will have plenty of new music to enjoy. I’m sure Beck’s St. Louis fans are already jonesing for another show.
Openers CRX, a band fronted by Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi, delivered an energetic set of music from their upcoming major label release, also due in October. It was hard to tell if there were any bona fide hits in their set, but their musicianship and chops were never in question. Drummer Ralph Alexander was the focal point, a tiny tempest of fury and thrashing. | Doug Tull
Photo by Jamie Schroeder; view full photo album here.