Beck has a style and a sound that could suit any era and fit any occasion.
You have a broken heart? He’s got you covered. You want to get crazy with the cheez-whiz? He’s your guy. Stuck in a dead end job? He feels you. Craving some nicotine and gravy? He knows where you’re coming from.
Throughout his 20-plus-year career, Beck has dabbled in so many different genres and explored so many sonic idiosyncrasies that he's tough to pin down stylistically, even after all this time. He playfully eludes easy categorization, and remains one of the most distinctive songwriters of the modern era.
On Thursday night at a sold-out Palace Theatre, all of Beck’s many creative sides were on full display, as he and his cracking seven-piece backing band delivered a lively 95-minute set that mixed his big radio hits in with tender, unguarded moments. “It’s been a while since we’ve been here,” Beck announced early in the set, in reference to his surprising nine-year absence from performing in the Twin Cities. “I don’t know how that happened. This city has always been one of my favorite places to play. And I think we’re going to be back next month, too.” (He's opening for U2 at US Bank Stadium.)
Not until a rousing “Loser” two-thirds of the way through the show did the entire balcony finally get up and dance, but Beck and his band were in good form from the start. A boisterous “Devil’s Haircut” and a smoothed out, funky “Black Tambourine” ignited the show straight away, with “Que Onda Guero” keeping the party going.
For a college kid coming of age in the mid-’90s, Beck’s early albums served as exuberant soundtracks for countless good times, so hearing tracks like “The New Pollution,” “Mixed Bizness,” and “Sexx Laws” immediately conjured up hazy, wild nights that will forever be tied to those jams. But the show’s quieter, more restrained moments ultimately proved to be the highlights of the show.
“Since we don’t get up in these parts very often, we’re going to play some Morning Phase songs for you,” Beck said. “But first, this is from Sea Change.” The acoustic-based songs that followed -- “Lost Cause,” “Say Goodbye,” “Heart Is a Drum,” and “Blue Moon” – were stunning, their fragile, broken-hearted quality of enhanced by Beck’s talented band. The glorious rendition of “Heart Is a Drum” featured dueling banjos, filling the theater with an intimate, back-porch warmth.
A boisterous crowd singalong during “Loser” electrified the room, with Beck fully enjoying sharing his biggest hit with his passionate fans. “You ever look around and say, ‘This is my life?’” Beck asked the audience, whose lives are absolutely nothing like his. “This is such a beautiful thing. And it’s my life. And it’s fucking happening right now.” His recent single, “Wow,” followed, and featured some of the best visuals of the night on the towering screen at the back of the stage.
After a filthy version of “Sexx Laws,” which Beck assured us would “disrupt the order of personal conduct,” he quickly left the stage to switch from a matching black bolero and suit coat to a white bolero and suit coat for the encore. The wardrobe change was telling – Beck can play the role of either hero or villain to equal effect. And during the encore, Beck was in full-on indie-rock hero mode, getting down with his band during a rocking, jubilant version of “E-Pro” that again had the crowd singing along in full voice. Beck dramatically fanned himself with his hat after that scorcher, before announcing, “I was strolling the streets of St. Paul, looking for something to do. Looking for a place with the lights turned low. I was feeling so alone in this world. I’m looking for some friends tonight. And I think I found them.”
The vibrant, soulful take on “Where It’s At,” included a cool mid-song breakdown where Beck announced his band (featuring drummer Chris Coleman, bassist Dwayne Moore, and one-time Jellyfish members Jason Falkner and Roger Manning Jr.), letting each perform snippets of various cover songs: “Good Times,” “China Girl,” “Immigrant Song,” and “Cars.” Beck introduced himself by saying, “As for myself, I am the artist currently known as Beck. And to tell you a little bit more about myself, I’d like to play this song by this great man.” An affectionate, if a bit ramshackle, version of Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” followed, before the band returned to “Where It’s At” to end the night with a sonic jolt.
At one point in his career, Beck didn't appear to have much fun on stage. But last night, he seemed rejuvenated, enjoying himself as much as he did during his alt-outsider early days. Beck can bring the party with the best of them, while also soothing your broken heart if you need it. He did plenty of both on his grand return to Minnesota.
Critic’s bias: I have a long, entertaining history with Beck, dating back to early shows at First Avenue, at The Boot in New Orleans in 1994, just three weeks after the release of Mellow Gold, and his triumphant show at the Orpheum Theatre with the Flaming Lips (who served as opener and backing band) during his Sea Change tour. All of these shows were completely different in tone, presentation, and sound, and all of them were absolutely brilliant. He has an uncanny ability to morph his music into whatever style suits him at the moment, and invariably whatever he comes up with sounds fresh and innovative. After a couple of downer shows in the recent past, it was great to see Beck back enjoying himself once again.
The crowd: It was a far more sedate audience than I was expecting. Granted, there were definitely some “sit down and relax” moments during the set, but everyone should have been up and dancing well before hearing “Loser.” Even the main floor was surprisingly calm. But thankfully everyone got into it toward the end, and the performance got more fun as a result.
The New Pollution
Que Onda Guero
Think I’m In Love (with Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” tag)
Soul of a Man
Go It Alone
Heart Is a Drum
Where It’s At (with snippets of Chic's “Good Times,” David Bowie/Iggy Pop's “China Girl,” Led Zeppelin's “Immigrant Song,” Gary Numan's “Cars,” and Prince's “Raspberry Beret”)