Beck Performs First L.A. Show in 4 Years: Concert Review
El Rey Theater
Tuesday, May 22
With his "Sea Change" band reunited, the chameleonic performer delivers a nearly two-hour show at the El Rey that's heavy on mope and mellow.
The chameleonic Beck is often unpredictable: his tours can range from over-the-top spectacles (a few years back, his entire stage show was replicated by a phalanx of puppeteers, whose Being John Malkovich-esque performance was broadcast on big screens) to stripped-down solo acoustic laments. So given that this gig in a small-ish room was a warm up for a mini-tour that will have him playing major amphitheaters and headlining huge festivals, it was a surprise that his first LA show in nearly four years leaned more towards the latter, with Beck concentrating mostly on songs from 2002's mellow break-up record Sea Change rather than the slackadasical hip-hop influenced songs that have defined most of his career.
That's not to say that those weren't represented. “The New Pollution” here sounded like an aural Instagram shot, instantly throwbacky and current all at once, and “Modern Guilt,” the title track to Beck's last proper full-length, bounced along jauntily. But the set leaned clearly on mopetastic songs like “Guess I'm Doing Fine” and “Sunday Sun,” frustrating an audience clearly there for something more resembling a dance party.
It's obvious why Beck was on a search for such mellow gold. He'd just reunited the five-piece band that recorded Sea Change for the first time in a decade, meaning he was finally once again
sharing the stage with longtime collaborators including session dude Smokey Hormel and bassist Justin Medal-Johnson (the band didn't tour behind the record, either: at the time, Beck was backed by the Flaming Lips). Keyboardist Roger Manning added lushness to “The Golden Age” and “Paper Tigers” while making “Where It's At” fizz, even if it didn't quite pop. Likewise, subtle cymbal fills on “Already Dead” gleaned magnetically, but lacked the assault necessary to make “Loser” feel like a celebration.
Throughout the two-hour show, it was clear this was just a warm-up -- lyrics were lost, arrangements were revised mid-song, and audibles were called on-stage, notably for what ended up being the night's highlight: an unplanned run-through of the Odelay deep cut “Sissyneck,” which found the band finally grooving with each other instead of over themselves, figuring it all out on-stage rather than mid-rehearsal.
For a gig that found Beck trying to figure out what vibe to live in, it became clear: if, over the course of this tour, he lives in the moment a bit more often, he -- and his reunited band -- may find yet another musical zone to call their own.