Concert Review: Beck at Prospect Park Bandshell: August 4, 2013
I am probably not the best person to review a Beck show. That’s because as far as I’m concerned Beck resides somewhere in the pantheon of musicians where only the best of the best reside. I firmly believe he can do no wrong. (The only other musicians I feel this way about at the moment: the National. That’s the entire list.) One of these days I am finally going to write the definitive piece on why I believe that he is an Advanced Genius. For now, I submit this: What are all the things that Beck could theoretically do on stage? A standard concert with lots of his old hits played just as they sound on the album? He could go this simple route (he never actually would of course) and I would he happy. A show littered with songs from his two – TWO! – upcoming albums and virtually no hits? I would be honored to be among the first to hear those songs. A puppet show? Been there, done that, loved it. Beck could do the old Andy Kaufman trick of getting up on stage and reading the Great Gatsby and I would likely become an F. Scott Fitzgerald aficionado. So yeah, I am probably not the best person to review a Beck show.
That said, I’m here to tell you that this past Sunday night in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park – a benefit show to support the many free shows that make up “Celebrate Brooklyn” – was everything I hoped it would be and more. One of the things that has always impressed me about Beck is his incredible range – his music varies stylistically from rock to folk to rap to country/western to funk to Latin without missing a beat. At this show he easily moved from one genre to another, sometimes even within songs, giving everyone in the wide-ranging audience something to love. Do you like his pop music? How about “Think I’m in Love” and “Gamma Ray” back to back. Prefer his soulful acoustic numbers (which he did an entire set of a few days earlier at Le Poisson Rouge)? Beck did “Golden Age” and “Lost Cause” back to back as well. Beck’s harmonica was out early and often, with “Loser” especially done with an extra country flair (It felt like part of a saloon scene in an old spaghetti Western).
My favorite part of Beck’s personality is his playful side, which came out often during the show. Some it it was by design, while some of it may have been the result of an “intense” four day tour which included – according to Beck – a broken toilet on the bus the night before this show. Though he didn’t play any music from his new albums, one fun moment was Beck taking out his last “album”, Song Reader, which is actually a book of sheet music containing 20 songs written by Beck. He took out the book, holding it up for the audience explaining what it was (as if we all didn’t already know), why he created it (in the early days of his career people used to waste their money converting his distortions into sheet music; he figured he’d give the world something that actually sounded decent when played on piano) and what it could be used for (play the music on just about any instrument, look at the artwork, doorstop, fend off assailants). Then he performed two songs from the book, the soft “Just Noise” and the more rocking “Heaven’s Ladder.”
The most noteworthy – and probably the silliest fun of the night – was Beck’s use of covers. I read somewhere (pity that I can’t recall where) that he intended to surprise the Brooklyn audience with his choice of covers, and that he did. Despite playing several of the cover songs in their entirety, he brilliantly weaved them seamlessly into his own music. For example, first was Soft Cell’s ’80s dance hit “Tainted Love“, which segued right into Beck’s own “Modern Guilt.” The very next song was “Think I’m in Love”, with Beck adding as a flourish a little bit of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” The most spectacular though – and my favorite part of the night – was the main set’s closer “Sissyneck” which sandwiched Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean.” Sissyneck alone would have been a great closer, but when the guitarist casually played the opening bassline to Billy Jean and asked the crowd “do you recognize this?” I became giddy. The crowd cheered loudly and Beck turned to his bandmate: ”I don’t think you can do that. Can you do that?” before asking the audience “Can we do that?”
The answer of course is yes, he can do that. Beck can do anything, including singing Billy Jean (though comically flubbing a line or two) and doing a Beck-ian version of Michael’s famous dance moves. There were spins, shimmies, leg kicks – everything you’d expect from a Beck-mutated version of Michael. You could tell that he was having a great time out there and the electricity went right down into the audience. Once he was done with Billy Jean, Beck wrapped up Sissyneck and he and his band walked off stage.
They weren’t done though. The 15 minute encore only contained two songs but for several people I spoke to after the show this was the night’s highlight (as Beck said, “we’re gonna get loud now”). Those two songs were crowd sing-alongs “E-Pro” and “Where It’s At.” As incredible as that encore was, it’s hard for me to single out those two songs as the show’s peak. Beck was in the mood to please the Brooklyn crowd (and obviously in a good mood himself) and the entire hour and 40 minute show was like an exhilarating roller coaster ride, with emotions and speed racing up and down but no letdown at any moment. I’ve hardly even mentioned the show’s fat middle which included six of Beck’s all-time hits played consecutively – Think I’m in Love, Gamma Ray, Loser, Hotwax, Que Ondo Guero, and Girl. If there had been nothing else – no covers, no Sissyneck, no monster finale – just those six songs would have been worth the price of admission. Did I mention how much I love Beck?
And with that, I can’t wait for his two new albums. 2013 has been a year with some great new releases, and there are a few more still to come, but with this show behind me Beck’s two albums have soared to the top of my list in anticpation. In the meantime, please enjoy some professional photos from the show by P Squared Photography, and the video of the Sissyneck/Billy Jean performance below.
Soul of a Man
One Foot in the Grave
Modern Guilt (including cover of Soft Cell’s Tainted Love)
Think I’m in Love (including cover of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love)
Que Ondo Guero
The Golden Age
Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime
Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods
Sissyneck (including cover of Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean)
Where It’s At