Beck | 10.14.06

The puppets continued to compel and evolve into a life of their own, especially during a "puppet cam" segment, when the camera inside the puppets turned on the band. At one point, Beck sang to his puppet (really to himself), generating a touching duet.

 

UIC Pavilion, Chicago

The first time I saw Beck in concert was at the end of 2002, with the Flaming Lips for his suicidal-tinged Sea Change tour. That night in Los Angeles, I ended up buying Drew Barrymore a beer—one of those infamous L.A stories. Unfortunately, my second time seeing him—at Chicago's UIC Pavilion—was considerably less uneventful.

After painful opening act Spank Rock's explicit raps about hard-ons, Beck was a relief. First, a band of puppets-dressed and molded exactly like the band members-played instruments and danced to Beck's seminal 1994 hit "Loser" as their antics were captured on a video screen behind the stage. Adrenaline increased with the anticipation of an incredible show. They were playing "Loser," for godsakes!

"Loser" segued into another fine old school song, "Devil's Haircut"—now accompanied by the puppet band's human counterparts—as Beck sprinted onto the stage dressed like a gay cowboy in a leather vest, white shirt, black jeans, and a hat covering his long, disheveled hair. Although the UIC Pavilion still had a considerable number of empty seats, the crowd that was there went wild.

Beck's latest, The Information, is deemed a "hip-hop" album simply because he raps, eschewing melancholy-fueled ballads to focus on beats and rhythms on what is an even better record than last year's Guero. The next several songs focused on material from the new album, starting with "Nausea," accompanied by a guy hired to do Beck-orientated dances, breakdancing and jumping around like an idiot.

Beck finally broke the fourth wall with an impromptu medley about the places they'd visited prior to landing in Chicago. A couple songs later, Beck conversed directly to the audience about stickers. The marketing campaign for The Information focuses on its unique packaging: fans can decorate the mostly blank CD cover themselves with an assortment of accompanying stickers. At this show, vendors sold similar stickers and plain T-shirts so fans could garnish the shirts as they pleased, ultimately resulting in yet another way the music industry leaves fans poor.

Beck delved further into The Information with "We Dance Alone" and the catchy "I Think I'm in Love" before reaching back to Sea Change for "Paper Tiger." The puppets continued to compel and evolve into a life of their own, especially during a "puppet cam" segment, when the camera inside the puppets turned on the band. At one point, Beck sang to his puppet (really to himself), generating a touching duet.

At this juncture, with his novelties stalled, Beck became surprisingly dull. The audience seemed less than titillated, too. Couldn't the entire show have been just the puppets? And why did Beck have to hire a dancer when he used to do it himself?

After playing several workman-like versions of songs from Guero—including "Black Tambourine," "Girl," and a medley featuring "Hell Yes" and "Guero"—Beck finally transitioned into acoustic proclivities for "Lost Cause" and "Tropicalia," the only track performed from 1998's Mutations. The rest of the set is a mélange from Guero, The Information, Sea Change, and "One Foot in the Grave" from the obscure 1994 independently released Stereopathetic Soul Manure.

During the encore, Beck performed three more songs, including the Odelay classic "Where It's At," but at this point Beck's show was beyond redemption. Though the puppets were an unprecedented and imaginative idea, they were merely a distraction from an otherwise awkward and bland stage show.

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