One of the true tragedies of this year’s rain-soaked Jazz Fest was the cancellation of Beck’s headlining set. A true man of the people, Beck didn’t forget about his fans in New Orleans and returned last week to kick off a short U.S. tour at the Saenger Theatre. Beck did not disappoint as he tore through a wild set filled with songs that spanned his 20+ year career without a single dull moment.
Beck is a musical chameleon, constantly shifting his sounds and lyrics to fit whatever genre he feels like playing at the moment. Put on a Beck record and you could hear bizarro hip-hop, catchy electronic pop, noise rock, or gentle acoustic strumming. Beck’s ability to effortlessly shift between such disparate genres is a testament to his gifts as a songwriter and one of the reasons he has developed such a devoted following.
Last week’s show was heavy on Beck’s louder, party-starting material and kept the crowd on their feet and moving for the whole show. Beck strolled onstage just after 9:00 and greeted the crowd with a quick “How you doin?” before launching into the riff from the Odelay classic “Devil’s Haircut.” From there the band refused to let up, delivering songs from every era of Beck’s wildly vast catalog. His biggest hit, “Loser,” appeared early in the set and sounded as fresh and strange as it did when it made Beck a household name in 1994.
Beck has clearly put a lot of thought into perfecting his live show, likely due to a recent run of headlining slots at major festivals. The ace five-piece band showed an incredible versatility as they switched instruments and followed Beck down whatever musical rabbit hole he decided to explore. They injected an unexpected rock and roll swagger into some of Beck’s more low-key songs, keeping the energy high and throwing in some unexpected jams. Behind the band, a constantly shifting array of animations filled a huge screen in a way that was carefully cued to the music and never distracting.
After a raucous 45 minutes, the band took it down a notch to play a set of quieter tunes from the albums Sea Change and Morning Phase. Although radically different from the beginning of the show, this acoustic set was equally engaging and saw the band delivering gorgeous harmonies with a gentle touch. Things then took a 180-degree turn with the debut of the new song “Wow,” which featured rave-ready bass drops and sounded like nothing Beck has ever produced before. The energy stayed high through the electro bloops of “Girl,” the tropical rave-up “Sexx Laws,” and the hard rocking “E-Pro.”
Beck emerged for the encore in a white suit and matching hat, channeling a cowboy lounge crooner as he bantered with the crowd. He sat down on an amp and spoke fondly of the kindness of strangers in the Crescent City and described New Orleans as “one of the last cities where you can still see its soul.” With the crowd comfortably nestled in the palm of his hand, Beck lead the band through an extended version of “Where It’s At” that featured detours into Chic, Bowie, and Prince covers. The show’s heavy dose of fun showed that Beck is reinventing himself yet again, this time as a good-time party starter with an endless supply of classic songs. Two decades into his career he remains a true original in modern popular music and shows no sign of slowing down. Here’s hoping we get to party with Beck again at Jazz Fest 2017.
The New Pollution
Que Onda Guero
Think I’m in Love
Soul of a Man
Go It Alone
Heart is a Drum
Where It’s At