Beck: On the scene at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom
A few months back, I had the distinct pleasure of receiving a phone call from Beck. The connection wasn’t great, though I chalked that up to the fact that he was calling me from a parallel universe—one that was not wholly unlike the one I exist in, but both slightly more contemplative and way more funky.
We discussed the artists, albums, and songs that have informed his life, and more than once he brought up British death metal band Carcass (whose Surgical Steel was one of my favorite albums of 2013). He seemed mostly charmed by their insane-sounding song titles (“Cadaveric Incubator of Endoparasites” was a favorite), but based on Beck’s show at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom on Monday night, he also digs Carcass because, when given the chance, he likes to shred.
Nothing in Beck’s catalogue has the same sort of buzzsaw growling as “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills,” but there were several re-arrangements of his classic tunes that added a new kind of six-string heft and double-kick-drum thump. Both “Devil’s Haircut” and “The New Pollution” were riff-heavy and extra loud, and even the Midnite Vultures robo-funker “Get Real Paid” had some fresh Gary Numan-esque metallic sharpness.
It was the sound of Beck, ever the shape-shifter, tweaking his old hits and reinventing them however he saw fit — though despite their new wrinkles, they still retained a fundamental funkiness that let him indulge in his best white boy dancing.
That was the second part of the show. On certain stops, Beck has been taking the two sides of his body of work—the genre-hopping breakbeat rockers and the starker country-rock stuff—and mixing them into a bounding b-boy bouillabaisse. On Monday night, he broke those poles into two separate sets, opening up with the dreamy Sea Change cornerstone “The Golden Age.” Seven of the next eight songs came from Beck’s most recent album Morning Phase, with Sea Change’s “Lost Cause” tossed in for good measure. The Morning Phase stuff sounded absolutely exquisite, if a little reserved, but Beck was in especially fine voice on the slowly-building “Blackbird Chain” and the twisty “Waking Light.”
After the gorgeous closing notes of “Blue Moon,” Beck decided to get a little rowdy. As he blew through some of the biggest songs of his career, he seemed to be in excellent spirits, breezily poking fun at the audience for smoking too much weed and then needling himself for forgetting the words to the first verse of “Modern Guilt.” The extended jam on the encore-ending “Where It’s At” (which featured a brief rap-and-harmonica invasion by “One Foot In the Grave”) was particularly sharp, as were the jubilant sing-alongs inspired by both “Loser” and “E-Pro.”
Beck has built his entire career on boldly mixing styles together and constantly reinventing his sound, and though the high-octane funk of “Sexx Laws” shouldn’t be able to stand next to the cool beat science of “Black Tambourine” or the downtrodden sweetness of “Blue Moon,” it’s a testament to his confidence as a performer and his sheer undefinable cool that it all makes perfect sense. That’s logic in the Beck Dimension, and we should all be lucky enough to visit once in a while.
Here was the set list:
“The Golden Age”
“Heart Is A Drum”
“Soul of a Man”
“The New Pollution”
“Get Real Paid”
“Think I’m In Love”
“Where It’s At” (With “One Foot In the Grave” interlude)