Preparing to begin a variously intimate, explosive and exploratory concert, Beck shook his golden locks and flashed his peachy, boyish charm in front of a sold-out show at the State Theater Thursday night. Beck, the Los Angeles-born freakazoid famous for his defiance of genre and musical categorization, promised wild antics and over-the-top stage props while touring the world promoting his new album, Guero. Never a sucker for overhyped or decadent stadium shows and prone to making unannounced appearances at small bars around L.A., Beck performed a show at the State that was full of surprises and delighted fans of his sardonic, often absurdist humor and eclectic sound.
As with his records, Beck’s live performances constantly shift in genre and mood. While music from Guero was well represented, he performed a set list that spanned the length of his 11-year career. Weaving between disco-funk jams, intimate solo acoustic pieces and loud rock tunes underneath faux-rap, Beck’s 90-minute set kept up a propulsive momentum.
Opening with “Black Tambourine,” the stage lit up to reveal a group of seven men – the standard rock quartet with some extra decoration. In one corner stood a video DJ, a low-key guy who mixed and scratched DVDs, rhythmically illuminating the screen behind the stage. Two keyboardists and occasional guitarists chimed in with vocal harmonies. The funniest, and perhaps strangest, inclusion to the group was Beck’s dancer – an ostensibly inept arm – and leg-pumper hidden behind big, black aviator sunglasses and a green jumpsuit who danced something like an awkward version of The Robot.
Fairly standard versions of Beck’s earlier hits, like “Loser” and “Devil’s Haircut,” let the audience feel some ’90s nostalgia. But pointed fingers and an eruption of mirth marked the grand descent of a 10′-by-5′ “ghetto blaster” boombox from the ceiling of the theater while Beck jammed on “Where It’s At.” With his head ducked under this massive symbol of street hip hop, Beck rapped with his eccentric montage of disparate imagery (“Pick yourself up off the side of the road / With your elevator bones and your whip-flash tones”), looking as legit as any white guy wearing a red and white striped shirt possibly could. Other highlights include the solo rendition of Sea Change’s bittersweet “Golden Age.” But the mood created by Beck’s mature, goosebump-inducing voice wasn’t enough. The song segued into an odd section in which his bandmates tapped rhythms with silverware on glasses as they sat on the floor of the stage, eating dinner.
Funny flourishes aside, Thursday night’s concert showcased the talent of one of America’s most
accomplished singer-songwriters since Neil Young. On Guero’s “Go it Alone,” Beck gracefully sang against a Southern gospel handclap/stomp rhythm that referenced 1930s Delta Blues. He strummed “Tropicalia,” another acoustic effort from his album Mutations, alone – another successful genre-nod to the Brazilian bossa nova explosion in the ’60s. Though not his original, he sang former tourmates the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize” in an earnest, sincere way that went far beyond the sappy version the Lips released.
After one encore with some funky tracks from Midnight Vultures and a perfect rock performance of “E-Pro,” the man behind these musical paradoxes took off, leaving the elated audience to await his next Detroit tour stop.