Beck’s act comes to Oakland
OAKLAND — Music aficionado, hipster goofball, enlightened composer or wispy poet? Finding a term to describe Beck is as hard to put your finger on as it is to find a classification to file his music under.
Beck casually strolls through musical genres the same way someone with attention deficit disorder channel surfs.
From folk-rock campfire songs laced with hip-hop beats and pay-no-mind lyrics of “Mellow Gold” and “One Foot in the Grave” to the take-off-your-clothes and get freaky sounds of “Midnight Vultures”, Beck keeps his audiences in the dark wondering what comes next.
After three years of touring overseas with Radiohead, Beck opens himself up with a new album entitled “Sea Change” and heads out on tour backed by The Flaming Lips.
I was lucky enough to nab two tickets to the Nov. 27 show at Oakland’s Paramount Theater. Stigen, my concert-hitting, music-vibing brother and I hit the road to catch up with the elusive maestro.
Despite the fact our seats were in the last row of the upper, upper balcony, we had a great view of the stage. We didn’t miss much by catching only half of The Flaming Lips set.
Sitting in the back row for what seemed like an hour waiting for Beck’s set, I studied the crowd trying to peg Beck’s target audience. There was no pattern to be found; old and young, berets and hoodies, belly-button rings and hemp clothing, turtlenecks and Budweiser.
When the lights finally cut out, a spotlight focused everyone’s attention on a lone bar stool. The audience rose as Beck casually strolled out — marking the only time the entire crowd stood together.
“How y’all doin’?” Beck asked, receiving hundreds of responses. “Looks like I’m flying solo tonight,” he continued as he picked up an acoustic guitar, climbed on the bar stool and began a medley. It was a teaser compilation made up of single verses from classics like “Pay No Mind (Snoozer),” “Hollow Log,” and “Nightmare Hippy Girl.”
I know a musician can’t play every song every person wants to hear, and the medley is an attempt to cover as much ground as possible. But these were the songs that turned us all onto Beck in the first place. I felt let down that songs like “Jackass” were represented by a couple of chord changes and a lyrical blip.
The show’s energy spiked when Beck exchanged guitar for harmonica and sprang to his feet. The harp wailed, Beck stomped on the stage and bellowed the lyrics for the rousing proclamation “One Foot in the Grave.”
Beck returned to his seat for the two somber tunes “Nobody’s Fault but My Own” and “Guess I’m Doing Fine” before announcing it was time to turn it up.
The once dark theater lit up to reveal The Flaming Lips’ Wayne M. Coyne on guitar, Michael Ivins on bass and Steven G. Drozd on drums firing up “The Golden Age.”
Their sound was tight. I was amazed that this was the same band I was listening to and hour earlier.
What followed was impromptu bantering with the band and what seemed like endless promotion of The Flaming Lips’ music that lasted the rest of the show. I can appreciate the casual horseplay and stories about being on the road, but all the gushing about The Flaming Lips let the focus slip, causing the audience to sit down and loose enthusiasm.
It didn’t help when Beck kicked off a Flaming Lips cover of “Do You Realize?” by saying, “We only play this for San Francisco.” Boos rang out — sending out the not-so-subtle reminder we were in Oakland.
Don’t get me wrong, the show had a lot of moments that would satisfy the most fickle Beck fanatic. Crowd pleasers like “Lord Only Knows,” “Loser,” “Cold Brains,” “The New Pollution” and “Where it’s At” all mixed up with introverted, heartache reflections like “Lonesome Tears,” “It’s All in Your Mind” and “Round the Bend.”
The audience’s reaction to the performance was puzzling. Only small numbers of people were out of their seats whoopin’ it up, the rest sat back with serious, calculating expressions on their faces as if they were sitting through a math class. Even when Beck pulled out his cool-funk masterpiece, “Nicotine and Gravy,” everyone sat. What’s up Oakland?
It was evident Beck was put off by the response. When he was close to topping the night off he jumped into the usually charged “Devil’s Haircut.” The recorded version ends with a primal scream that drives all the emotion of the song home like a punch in the stomach. At the show, Beck just walked away from the microphone when it was all supposed to drop. He just stood by the drummer until the music faded.
Still, it was well worth the four-hour drive to Oakland. This was one of the last legs on Beck’s tour. Tickets are hard to come by because Beck likes to play small, intimate shows. So if you come across tickets, don’t sit on your hands, snatch them up, get out of your seat and show the love.
Scott Misener may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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