red lights


The perpetual reinvention of Beck

Chicago, IL
Sept. 21, 2005
Beck Beck

Story and photos by Matt Schwenke

Possibly second only to Madonna in embracing a postmodern identity, Beck's performance at the Riviera revealed a consummate artist through constant change or reinvention of the self. Synthetic disco MC or rust-on-the-strings bluesman, Beck played narrator to his own story with a healthy mix of performance art, a diverse set-list, a "DJ film-scratcher" for the backdrop light show and a dancing alter-ego dressed in 70's workout gear-- short-shorts, sweatbands and all.
Setting up the dance party feel early with "Black Tambourine," "Devil's Haircut," and "Que' Onda Guero," Beck began to dive in and out of the bare and mellow sounds of "Jack-Ass" and "Paper Tiger" until he stood alone on stage with acoustic in hand for a passionately-sung "Lost Cause." Beck With the packed house buzzing with energy, a twangy blues guitar with slide expanded full-band into "Nicotine and Gravy" only to turn into a beat-box breakdown that ended with Beck spitting the "fax machine anthem" of "Hell Yes."
Back in full party mode, the performance art began in "Where It's At" with the dancer bringing successively bigger boom-boxes out on stage until air traffic controller Beck cued the dancer, now donning a reflective vest and light sticks, to direct in a giant boom-box that lowered from the ceiling and readied for take-off. As the ridiculous, yet entertaining, spectacle was raised out of sight, Beck made a reference to outer space and the crowd was swept out into the cosmos with the reverberations of "Broken Drum."
The rest of the band left the stage again for a solo acoustic version of The Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize?" that almost seemed written for Beck's voice. The band then gathered again in a half-circle to provide a clap track behind Beck on a harmonium for "Nobody's Fault But My Own," and then on an acoustic guitar with the crowd singing along to the jazz pulse of "Tropicalia."
In the most striking of the performance art aspect of the evening, Beck went into a solemn acoustic blend of "Guess I'm Doing Fine" and "Golden Age" as the band wined and dined at a table set up on stage-- lines from Hank Williams' "Lonesome Whistle Blowin'" were mixed in there too. With Beck soulfully strumming and singing center stage with band reenacting a jovial dinner scene behind, the effect visually displayed the detachment and solitude that can be felt in the lyrics and mood of the aforementioned tunes. Almost as if remembering to cheer up, the dining table and dishware upon it became a percussion set for the band in a breakdown that took the audience from slow and sad into a raucous version of "Clap Hands."
More energized than ever, Beck and alter-ego dancer challenged each other with a fake banjo duel in the danceable "Sexx Laws." After pretending to play the banjo behind his head and behind his back, Beck chucked the banjo side-stage and proclaimed it took him "15 years to perfect" his banjo act. Moving quickly into an intro of Sly Stone's "I Want To Take You Higher," Beck was unconvincing behind the second drum set before slamming out "Get Real Paid." Seeming to say "any idiot can do this," Beck smiled sardonically as he strolled off stage playing a thumb piano to the band still finishing "Get Real Paid." Quickly reassembling for an encore, Beck and company played a spotless version of "E-Pro" that ended with the entire band walking off-stage after getting the audience to provide a chorus for their departure. A little pretentious? Maybe. But if you don't take Beck's musings too seriously (postmodernism is a dabbling in the nonsensical after all), you're left with a night of uniquely entertaining fun.

Beck Beck

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