In the middle of a summer-long tour taking him throughout the south and midwest, slack-rock superstar Beck stopped by the Uptown Amphitheater Friday night. Under the shine of a luminous full moon, Beck brought many people in the audience back 20 years, while also displaying a more measured tone found in his most recent album.
Beck took the stage in a grey two-piece suit, lighter-toned shirt and a stingy brim hat. Leading the show like a orchestra conductor, Beck had great energy throughout the night, and showed off many of his half-choreographed dance moves in a very playful manner. While known for his monotone vocal style, Beck also showed that he’s got the chops to carry a verse as well as any rapper, especially on “Qué Onda Güero”.
Touring in support of Morning Phase, Beck had with him many of the musicians that recorded on that album. A trio of guitarists, led by Smokey Hormel, showed great versatility throughout the night. Much of the material from Morning Phase and Sea Change is based on a layered acoustic guitar sound and the axe men did a terrific job of creating a very aural sound. The Dan Electros and distortion pedals came out in full force on several songs, however, including the opener “Devil’s Haircut”, the slide-guitar driven “Loser”, and the main set finale “E-Pro”. The rhythm section (Joey Waronker on drums and Justin Meldal-Johnson on bass) provided excellent pace all night, and shined particularly well on “Black Tambourine” and “New Pollution”. The band was rounded out by Roger Manning Jr., who handled all the various keys, synths and organs. With the many different styles and influences covered in the set, the band never failed to adapt to what was next.
Long-time fans of Beck were not disappointed as Beck tore through the classics with a fervent energy. Live favorites and older hits like “One Foot in the Grave”, “Hell Yes”, “Debra”, and “Sissyneck” all pleased the more discerning Beck fans. While much attention was given to the newer songs on Morning Phase and Sea Change(seven songs total), those songs by nature were much more calm and stoic in contrast. Acknowledging the gleaming full moon behind the audience, “Blue Moon” was the first cut from the newest album, while “Heart is a Drum”, “Say Goodbye” and “Waking Light” were the three penultimate songs in the main set.
Beck also managed to squeeze two covers in as medleys in his own songs: Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” was weaved into “I Think I’m in Love”, and the bass line in “Sissyneck” shifted seamlessly into “Billie Jean”.
Closing the main set was “E-Pro”, which finished in a flurry of feedback-fueled distortion, and Beck rolling on the ground trying to seemingly strangle his guitar. The keyboard player then wrapped a line of yellow caution tape around the stage, in a bit of an odd send-off.
The band came back in full-force for the encore, however, and probably had more bounce and energy than at any other time in the show. “Hell Yes” had the entire crowd jumping and singing along. The faux-love classic “Debra”, was a treat even if Beck’s tongue-in-cheek falsettos weren’t exactly Al Green. “Where it’s At” closed the show to a standing ovation.
The show was not without it’s faults however. Several times throughout, feedback from the microphones would jolt through the speakers to fairly noticeable degrees, such that you could see the band and Beck have to adjust on the fly to compensate. It seemed to be a problem throughout the night, with three-to-four really noticeable incidents. While the band as a whole played very well together, any time a musician other than Smokey Hormel stepped out to solo, the results were not pretty (Beck included). This was particularly evident in the encore when Beck credited the band and they all solo’ed over a few bars. Beck himself even muffed a dance move where he threw off his jacket, not quite getting the left breast and sleeve off in the smooth, fluid motion he was looking for. However, in typical Beck fashion, Beck winked to the crowd, said “Let me try that one more time”, and pulled it off again to a rousing cheer.
Charlotteans couldn’t have asked for a better atmosphere as the full moon shone brightly over the crowd all night, and the cooler temperatures and lighter humidity made it comfortable whether you were deep in the pit or siting in the lawn.
Beck will make several stops at music festivals to finish out his tour, including thePitchfork Festival in Chicago, the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, and two dates atAustin City Limits in October to close. If you missed Beck here in Charlotte, you can catch him in Atlanta on July 22nd at the Fox Theater, and in Raleigh the next night at Red Hat Amphitheater.