A small man with pointy shoes, wearing a sweat-streaked red shirt and sometimes a hat, is dancing and prancing, singing fun songs to a crowd that swells with enthusiasm. He’s in a spotlight throughout, in case any of us mistook this famous face for Just Another Band Member.
Some of this was to be expected: Beck is not a brogues man. But the fun factor was never certain – with a rather modest, distinctly muted recent LP, ‘Morning Phase’ (review), playing as a cousin to 2002’s bruised and beautiful ‘Sea Change’ collection, some have turned up tonight anticipating sobriety over showmanship.
But while there’s set list space for both 2014’s ‘Blue Moon’ and the exquisite ache of ‘Lost Cause’, the Beck that takes to this historic venue’s stage has come, primarily, to party. And once he starts, the energy is relentless. 1996’s breakthrough ‘Odelay’ set is well represented, with ‘Devil’s Haircut’ opening and an extended ‘Where It’s At’ closing a three-song encore.
We get a thrashy ‘Novacane’ and a sax-less but otherwise satisfying ‘The New Pollution’, too. ‘Loser’ is third out – once his best-known song, its early airing is indicative of how this man’s catalogue has grown with brilliantly skewed pop pieces.
‘Guero’ is plundered for ‘Hell Yes’ and ‘E-Pro’, and ‘I Think I’m In Love’ – from 2006’s mixed but ambitious ‘The Information’ LP – borrows a little of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ for a coda. When he says he’s about to slow it down, there’s a noticeable rush for the bars – yes, ‘Blue Moon’ is lovely, but when you start with fire, the only sensible option come the halfway mark is to pour just a little liquor on it.
The encore revives a couple of welcomed ‘Midnite Vultures’ cuts: the glorious abandonment of ‘Sexx Laws’ and the funky debauchery of ‘Debra’, a song that I for one could never have called the airing of ahead of its appearance. Heavily indebted to Prince, it’s a slow-grooving bump-and-grind that stands in amazing contrast to its writer’s more sedate songs – not as revered as something like ‘Lost Cause’, but to these ears just as vital a chapter of its maker’s continuing story as anything with more heartfelt sentiments.
I skip the short distance back to Chalk Farm station singing, lightly, how I want to get with you and your sister. Strangers look at me a little funny. Could have been worse. I could have left in tears.
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Words: Mike Diver
Photos: Rachel Lipsitz