I think one of the greatest feelings after seeing a concert is when you leave knowing that whatever expectations you had were exceeded. I usually go into a show with a certain level of excitement and some assumption of what I’m going to see, whether it is based on previous experiences or from what I’ve heard or read. I’ve been lucky enough that most shows that I’ve been to have at least met my expectations, but I’m always exhilarated when I leave knowing that I a better experienced than I ever imagined. This is how I felt after I left Beck‘s recent concert in Brooklyn.
Now I had seen Beck before, but my previous experience left me wanting more. Let me explain. It was 1998, and Beck was touring with Ben Folds Five as one of his openers, along with Elliott Smith. Being the big Ben Folds Five fan that you know I am, I wanted to go see them. My younger brother, Sam, was (and still is) a big Beck fan, so it was an easy decision for my dad to get tickets to the show. At the time, I wasn’t really into Beck, but I liked most of his stuff, especially off of Odelay, and knew of his reputation for putting on a great show, so it just added to my overall excitement for the show. The concert was at Jones Beach Ampitheater which is about 2 hours away from where I grew up, and it was on a school night. Adding to this was the fact that I had a biology practical the following day, of which I did almost no studying for. So when Beck started around an hour and a half after Ben Folds Five finished (did I mention it was drizzling the whole night?), I knew we would not be staying for the whole show. We left about 45 minutes into Beck’s set. However, what we saw was fantastic, and just made me hope that I would be able to see Beck in concert again. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get the chance, though my brother did during The Information tour, which he said was one of the best shows he’s ever seen (I mean they had marionettes and set pieces). So when I saw that Beck was going to be playing a show in Brooklyn with a full electric band (something he has not been doing much of lately), I jumped at the opportunity.
Going into the evening, I tried to temper my expectations, due to the fact that there were a lot of unknown variables. Neither my brother (who came with me) nor I had been to the venue before, so we had no idea what the setup would be or what the sound would be like. We also had no idea who would be playing in his band, and were wondering what songs he was going to play. We got to the venue a little bit after 6pm, and were able to find a spot just in front of the seated area (for VIPs only) directly in front of the sound board, which was dead center of the stage. The concrete GA area is on a slope which made it easy for us to see the stage, even with people in front of us. Around 7pm, the opening act, Adam Green and Binki Shapiro, came on and put on a nice set, full of alt-country/folk and fun stage antics.
As we waited for Beck to come on, my brother and I mused about who would be playing with him. Sam knew that Beck’s longtime bassist and musical director, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, was not going to be at the show, which was a disappointment to both of us. From one of my conversations with Bleu during our recording session, I knew that Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. was going to be playing keyboards. I hoped that Joey Waronker was going to be playing drums, and based on the funky left-handed set, it seemed he would be playing (which he did). The question now was, who would be playing guitar and bass? A little after 8pm the band came out. I was surprised and excited to see that the first person out on stage and heading to play bass was Jason Falkner (I’m a big fan of his solo material). As expected, Waronker and Manning both came out on stage, and the mystery man of the evening turned out to be guitarist Smokey Hormel. Then the band started playing and the last lingering question of the evening was answered.
As Beck and his band opened in blistering fashion with “Devil’s Haircut,” “Black Tambourine,” and “Soul of a Man,” I knew we were going to be in for one helluva night. I turned my brother and told him that we had already gotten our admission’s worth for the night. While it was partly due to the fact that he played those songs, it was also attributed to Beck’s energy and his band’s cohesiveness musically. Sure his band was made of veteran musicians, and yes they had already played a few shows in previous days, but the fact that they sounded like a band that had been playing together for years is what got me. (Beck later stated that this was the band that played on the Sea Change tour and was his “dream band.”)
After going solo on “One Foot in the Grave,” his band came back out and continued to tear things up, running through an incredible mix of songs that essentially covered Beck’s career. The crowd went crazy when they started playing Soft Cell‘s version of “Tainted Love,” which after a verse went into “Modern Guilt” (though Beck messed up and called a redo during the transition). “Think I’m in Love” was given a cover add-on as well, having Donna Summer‘s “I Feel Love” tacked on as an outro. After the upbeat and dancy “Gamma Ray,” Beck began playing the memorable slide guitar opening to “Loser,” as the crowd erupted with ecstasy. Almost everyone was dancing and singing along, and the concert truly became a musical party. After another trio of danceable songs (“Hotwax,” “Que Ondo Guero,” and “Girl“), Beck and the band went into a few ethereal tunes, that were absolutely gorgeous sounding. While “Soldier Jane” sounded like it came right off of the record, “Chemtrails” was simply epic, thanks in part to Joey Waronker’s pounding, yet tasteful drumming.
Beck then shed his electric guitar for an acoustic and told the crowd that he was going to be playing a few songs off of Sea Change. After settling down after an ecstatic applause, the crowd was treated to fantastic versions of “The Golden Age” and “Lost Cause.” Admittedly, I have never really given Sea Change much of a proper listen, but in the middle of “Lost Cause” I turned to my brother and told him that I needed to listen to the album more.
After performing his cover of The Korgis‘ “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime,” which he recorded for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Beck took out a copy of his most recent “album,” Song Reader, which is actually a book of sheet music. Beck explained how in the past he had looked at the transcriptions of his songs into music books and had felt sorry for whoever had to transcribe his distorted, backward, compressed vocal screams into piano notes. So, he decided to write and arrange simple songs that could be easily put into sheet music, and do it the old-fashioned way, allowing people to interpret the song however they wanted. He then performed two songs from the songbook, “Just Noise” and “Heaven’s Ladder.” Just to clarify, there is no official recordings of these songs, so for me, it was the first time I had ever heard these songs. And yes, they were good.
After running through “Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods,” Beck ended the set with a barnstorming version of “Sissyneck.” During the breakdown in the song, Waronker slightly changed his beat, and Beck went around his band asking if they knew what it was. The crowd seemed to know, but Hormel and Manning feigned ignorance, before Falkner said he knew what it was, and broke into the infamous bassline of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” Beck asked, “Can we do this?” and the crowd answered with a massive cheer, as Beck started to imitate the King of Pop’s dance moves, before jumping into the first verse. Falkner took the lead on the bridge, showing his own vocal prowess, before everyone sang the chorus together. The band then kicked it back into “Sissyneck” to end the set, leaving the stage to a massive applause.
A few minutes later, the group came out, and Beck said they were going to “play something loud.” The band then launched into the heavy “E-Pro” which kept the high energy going and the crowd rocking. The night ended with an extended version of “Where It’s At,” in which Beck did an (assumingly) improv monologue. The band responded appropriately to his actions, adding in little riffs and fills. After telling the crowd he wanted to take things “higher,” Beck counted the band back in and totally brought the house down. Beck played off the crowd’s energy, having them do call and responses, and then having both Hormel and Falkner do a coordinated slide, bringing back memories of that show in 1998, before ending the song and the show.
This show was one of the best that I’ve been to in the last few years, and possibly ever. Everything seemed to be perfect. The weather, crowd, and sound were all great, as was Beck and his band. But more than just sounding great on stage, Beck and his band seemed to genuinely be having a damned good time. Not only were they fooling around and getting into the music, the band seemed to have a looseness and synergy to it, even though they had only really been playing for less than a week together. I really can’t say much more than it was just simply a fantastic show and it greatly exceeded my expectations (though I would’ve loved to have heard a tune from Midnight Vultures, but whatever).
I just hope it won’t be another 15 years before I see Beck again.
Devil’s Haircut – Odelay
Black Tambourine – Guero
Soul of a Man – Modern Guilt
One Foot in the Grave – Stereopathic Soulmanure
Modern Guilt (w/Tainted Love intro) – Modern Guilt
Think I’m in Love (w/I Feel Love outro) – The Information
Gamma Ray – Modern Guilt
Loser – Mellow Gold
Hotwax – Odelay
Que Ondo Guero – Guero
Girl – Guero
Soldier Jane – The Information
Chemtrails – Modern Guilt
The Golden Age – Sea Change
Lost Cause – Sea Change
Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (soundtrack)
Just Noise – Song Reader
Heaven’s Ladder – Song Reader
Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods – One Foot in the Grave
Sissyneck (w/Billie Jean interlude) – Odelay
E-Pro – Guero
Where It’s At – Odelay