Beck, with MGMT
September 29, 2008
The Uptown Theater
By RICHARD GINTOWT
Click to view our slideshow.
For the first five years of Beck's mainstream career, it seemed like each of his albums were paradigm shifts. Each invented an entirely different context with a unified body of material. That started changing about the time of Guero, and though all his subsequent releases have been worthwhile affairs, they no longer come with the requisite excitement of “what in the world will this guy do next?” At some point, Beck just started sounding like Beck. It's like what marriage feels like after a decade or so: not terribly exciting but pretty darn good. (Ok, actually I have no idea what marriage feels like after a decade.)
More after the jump.
Rumors are swirling that this is Beck's final tour, and if that's the case he's going out with what feels like a greatest-hits package. Kicking off his 90-minute set with “Loser,” “Devil's Haircut” and “Nausea,” Beck didn't touch his new album Modern Guilt until the seventh song. He ended up playing only four cuts from the disc, which is kind of a shoulder-shrug despite the ubiquitous presence of super-producer Danger Mouse. The go-go dancer riffs of cuts like “Gamma Ray” and “Profanity Prayer” just don't hold up to repeated spins, and the more adventurous material (i.e. “Chemtrails”) isn't all that hooky.
With a four-piece band backing him, Beck seemed intent to emphasize live sounds on this tour and ditch the samples and cut-and-paste pastiches that inform his recordings. A reworked version of “Nicotine and Gravy” almost beat the pants off the original, but “Devil's Haircut” and “The New Pollution” sounded pretty much the same and maybe a little worse for the wear. Beck has always surrounded himself with stellar musicians – and that still seems to be the case – but I wonder if he rehearses as much. There was a pretty significant slop factor during his 90-minute performance, complicated by the fact that the Uptown Theater's acoustics sometimes recall the opposite side of a tunnel. Garbled words are always frustrating, but particularly so with a lyricist as brilliant as Mr. Hansen.
Other high points included faithful renditions of “The Golden Age” and “Lost Cause” from Sea Change – an album that I still enjoy despite the fact that a coffee shop I frequent spins it endlessly. The group abandoned their instruments and strapped on headset mics for a stage-front rendition of “Hell Yes” with hand-held electronic gadgets. It was a goofy gesture in a production that played it pretty straight otherwise with four towering stage lights and a pixelated video display that seemed by tame by Beck's standards. He seemingly wanted all the attention on the music, which is fine – I've just come to expect zany hijinks from a guy who once danced like Michael Jackson and accompanied his shows with live puppets. If this is truly the end of Beck's road, I'll remember him more from his Odelay and Midnite Vultures tours. But it was still fun catching up with an old friend.
Beck-ism of the evening: “He's going to perpetrate a sort of tambourine master class.”
By the way: MGMT was just AVRG. I think they could MPRV by sounding less like TOTO.