Beck at Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, Wednesday February 28, 2018.
“And you may find yourself… choking on splinters. And you may find yourself… with two turntables and a microphone. And you may find yourself… Where It’s At.”
It’s a bit weird to begin a review with a Talking Heads/Beck fusion, but this is what Beck’s backing vocalists presented when they were introduced towards the end of the LA musician’s set. And it really illuminates the attraction of the diverse, spaghetti-legged-Western, robotic romance Beck proffers.
In flinging the bridle off the genre muzzle, Beck has delighted audiences with a proclivity for stylistic weirdness coupled with excellent musicianship since his break-out album Mellow Gold (released on this very day in 1994) and its international hit Loser. What he displayed in Melbourne on Wednesday was a wondrous appreciation for music beyond his own 13-album oeuvre.
But let’s go back to the top.
Unfortunately, a triple-banger intro didn’t seem to move the notoriously lacklustre Melbourne audience, even with all the Sam Rockwell-esque dance moves – but for a quarter of the punters at least, we later found out there was good reason. Beck began with Devil’s Haircut, Black Tambourine and New Pollution, and even got as far as Qué Onda Guero, Mixed Bizness and Go It Alone before a birdie in his ear guided him towards a mellower Morning Phase (2014) and Sea Change (2002) avenue in the setlist. Vocal audience members in the upper left section adjacent to the stage were roaring “I want a refund” before the change of pace, which I learned (post-show) was due to the fact one pertinent speaker stack wasn’t performing – no vocals, and a terrible mix. While Beck meandered down the lo-fi path, technicians leapt into gear and monkeyed up the spinal column of the PA, and duly sorted the issue.
Sam Rockwell in Charlie’s Angels. This is what I’m talking about.
As the adjustments were covertly occurring and the backing band had receded into the dim nether regions of the stage, Beck took requests. We got a beautiful acoustic guitar sing-a-long of Prince’s Raspberry Beret, and then an absolute corker iteration of fan favourite Debra (of Midnite Vultures, 1999), during which the musician swapped the titular lady’s name for the more Australian “Sheila” (something he apparently learned was a thing during his last tour here) and “Hyundai” for “Daewoo.”
Which brings me to the man’s wit – just dry as two Weet-Bix. “I appreciate that one guy with the lighter,” he remarked just before Lost Cause. “It kind of sums up my career.”
On to the money: I absolutely refused to stay seated for Up All Night (from latest album Colors); the recent single blended into a slightly soggy but still very enjoyable rendition of E-Pro, which went frenzied, double-time punk-ass at its end.
Our encore comprised Loser and a reprise of Where It’s At (again, but who cares – certainly not me), before Beck made dead-panned fun of us: “Woah, we’re having too much fun. Let’s just calm down. Let’s get some neck-pillows. This is the highlight reel of the show, where the dog slow-motion jumps up and catches the Frisbee.” He asked for more smoke, commenting that the feel was “very Stonehenge.”
This performance was a consummate distillation of Beck’s personal and professional love of all things musical; meanwhile, his ability to lasso a determinedly nonchalant audience into genuine engagement was top-notch. Hanging with baited breath for your next visit, Mr Hansen.