Friday, October 10, 2008

Beck, Then and Now

I've always said that I'm a complacent music listener. I have a great ear for music, and I know what I like, but I'm not somebody who walks around constantly plugged into an iPod. Far from it. My brother and I got guitars for Christmas in 1984, as well as guitar lessons from a man named Chuck Dooling. Nothing against Mr. Dooling, but I just wasn't into it at all. I think I probably lasted about four weeks before my mom realized that the lessons just weren't our cup of tea. About two and a half years later, however, I picked up the guitar again and started teaching myself, by ear. I remember the guitar lick from Poison's "Talk Dirty To Me" was one of the first riffs I taught myself. A few years later I was able to play along with pretty much every track off Nirvana's "Nevermind."

In 1994 I bought an acoustic guitar, which I still play every once in a while. One of the first "real" songs I taught myself from start to finish was Beck's "Lazy Flies," off the 1998 album "Mutations." I say "real" because it involves a ton of wrist-cramping chord changes. So it was no surprise that when "Sea Change" (which features a ton of acoustic guitar playing) was released I started devouring those songs on my guitar. In February of 2003, after a last-minute announcement that Beck was to perform on SNL, I got the very last two tickets sold in Manhattan for a Valentine's Day show out at Maxwell's in Hoboken. Maxwell's is certainly one small venue, I think its occupancy is only 200 people. The photograph above is from that show, nearly all of which was comprised of songs off "Sea Change".

Fast forward nearly six years later, to this past Wednesday night, at United Palace up on 175th and Broadway. Yvonne and I went to go see Beck with our friend Mark Dantes and it was a really good time. I probably wouldn't have gotten the tickets on my own initiative but a different friend of ours was getting some and asked Yvonne if we'd like a pair. It was a totally different experience than 2003, a much heavier, rocking sound, and of course the elaborate setting that is the inside of UP's main theater was very impressive. Behind the band on stage was a giant curtain containing thousands of tiny LEDs that were synchronized and able to "project" moving images. It was pretty mesmerizing to watch. And the band's set list was quite varied to boot. For me it was quite interesting to take in how much Beck's repertoire has expanded since I last saw him. They played songs from every major album. They opened with "Loser," continued in that vein for a while before switching it up and gather at the front of the stage with headphones and electronic devices to play more "samply" digital stuff such as "Hell Yes" from "Guero" and "Where It's At" from "Odelay." Then they slowed it down and went into "The Golden Age" and other slower acoustic songs from "Sea Change" and elsewhere. I must confess, the one album I hadn't yet heard all the way through was his most recent, "Modern Guilt," and they played a fair amount from that, all of which sounded excellent. For their one encore performance they launched into two songs I hadn't heard, likely also from "Modern Guilt." But yet I felt there was something missing to the entire evening, a song that I couldn't believe they hadn't played yet. Thus, it was a no-brainer to end his show on it, and I immediately recognized it once the drummer started clapping his sticks together in a four-count lead into the impossible-to-miss riff from "E-Pro."


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