Set List Bonus: Beck On "Austin City Limits"
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By Lynne Margolis
The plug was pulled mid-encore during Beck's Easter performance at Coachella on April 20, but there was no danger of such an indignity befalling the three-time GRAMMY winner's "Austin City Limits" taping on April 27. If he'd wanted to, he could have repeated his entire set, instead of just a few acoustic songs retaped to assure topnotch versions for a planned October broadcast as part of the PBS series' 40th anniversary season.
The capacity audience at ACL Live at The Moody Theater certainly was game; in fact, the crowd's wild pre-encore standing ovation seemed to last at least five minutes, and instead of dying down, their clapping gained momentum and turned into a unified rhythm, drawing the band back to finish a stellar night.
Drawing from all of his major-label releases except, sadly, 1999's GRAMMY-nominated Midnite Vultures, the master of musical reinvention nonetheless managed to work a little of that album's disco influence into his set, most notably on "Think I'm In Love" (from 2006's The Information), which morphed into the Donna Summer hit "I Feel Love." Beck even put his guitar down to bust the first of many funky dance moves, his skinny hips grooving as he shuffled his Beatle-booted feet across the stage.
Those moves are the physical manifestation of what Beck has done musically throughout his career: stretching the lines between homage and lampoon, lyrical poetry and seemingly nonsensical rhyme, like rubber bands, pulling them so taut, the distinction no longer matters. He stretches genres, too, melding blues, rock, soul, funk, folk, country, disco, hip-hop, electronica, and even orchestral maneuvers into something completely original.
Beck warmed up with "Devils Haircut" (from his GRAMMY-winning 1996 album Odelay) and "Black Tambourine" (from 2005's Guero), and after "Love," announced, "Now that we've got ourselves worked up to a sort of pseudo-frenzy, we're gonna take it way down."
A gorgeous acoustic series from 2002's Sea Change and his latest release, Morning Phase, followed, though he redid "The Golden Age," "Blackbird Chain" and "Say Goodbye" to fix sound and lyric issues.
Beck and Smokey Hormel handled much of the guitar work, but bassist/keyboardist Justin Meldal-Johnsen and keyboardists/multi-instrumentalists Roger Manning and Gus Seyffert often backed them on guitars and other stringed instruments while Joey Waronker handled a massive drumkit, making for a dizzying array of complexly layered sounds — not including triggered samples and multipart harmonies. Hilariously, Manning tried repeatedly to trigger the whistling intro to "Sissyneck," but was stopped before the song finally got plugged back into a set list that jumped out of order a third of the way through.
The fans were thrilled to hear it all, dancing and singing along to the anti-anthem "Loser," the sunny "Girl" and the controlled cacophony of "E-Pro." The latter ended in a chaotic feedback blitz as the band sprawled onstage, motionless.
During his encore, Beck mentioned his affection for Austin, noting he'll return in October for the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Then he jumped into "Where It's At" — his classic "two turntables and a microphone" funk-rap complete with its shout-outs to '80s jeans labels — before seguing into the freight-train harmonica blues of "One Foot In The Grave." The latter crescendoed in a fervent audience call-and-response before the band bowed, clustered in a circle for a group hug, then skittered offstage, still locked in circle formation.
As they filed out of the venue, even longtime Beck fans spilled adjectives such as "mind-blowing" and "amazing." When asked if it was her first time, one fan responded, "Oh, no. But it was the best time!"
To catch Beck in a city near you, click here for tour dates.
"Think I'm In Love"
"The Golden Age"
"Don't Let It Go"
"Soul Of A Man"
"Where It's At"
"One Foot In The Grave"
(Austin, Texas-based writer/editor Lynne Margolis has contributed to a variety of print, broadcast and online media, including American Songwriter and Paste magazines, Rollingstone.com, the Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. She also writes bios for new and established artists.)