Beck’s Bipolar Brouhaha

Beck with the Flaming Lips

Chicago Theater, October 18, 2002

Beck may be our generation’s greatest songwriter and best hope for sneaking good music into the mainstream culture of America. But his show Friday night at the Chicago Theater left a lot to be desired.

Now don’t think I’m one of these radio-come-latelies who only wanted to hear “Loser” and “Devil’s Haircut” (both of which he played along with his other hits, “Where It’s At,” “The New Pollution,” and “Jack-Ass”). I would have been happier if he dug deeper into his freaky catalog; as it was, he only played one song (Stereopathetic Soulmanure‘s “One Foot in the Grave”) from any of his early, independent releases.


My main beef with his set was the pacing. All wrong. I consider myself a pretty fucking hardcore Beck fanatic, but he had me scratching my head in frustration as he would build up a bit of rock and roll momentum and then drop the ball. I’ve got no problem with slow songs. If he wanted to make this his “Tonight’s the Night” tour and creep out all of his mainstream fans by only playing songs that nobody knew, I’d understand and think it was neat. But that’s not at all what he did.

See for yourself. Here’s the setlist:

SOLO:

1. Cold Brains (guitar)

2. One Foot In The Grave (harmonica)

3. Guess I’m Doing Fine (guitar)

4. Sunday Morning (vocoder synth)

WITH THE LIPS:

5. The Golden Age

6. Tropicalia

7. Lord Only Knows

8. The New Pollution

9. Lost Cause

10. It’s All In Your Mind

11. We Live Again

12. Lonesome Tears

13. End Of The Day

14. Get Real Paid

15. Loser

16. Nobody’s Fault But My Own (solo with harmonium)

17. Little One

18. Round The Bend

19. Jack-Ass

20. Pay No Mind

21. Paper Tiger

22. Where It’s At

23. Devil’s Haircut

If you are familiar with these songs you’ll notice that after he plays one or at most two fun songs, he immediately drops back to one of his dirgey, acoustic songs. This isn’t a problem with the songs themselves, but the order of the setlist. Maybe I’m a completely anal dictator, but this set clearly would have been improved by dividing it up into three chunks: the solo set, the acoustic band set, and finally the funky disco/rock set.

Before you call me a shallow poser, notice that it’s not like he wasn’t playing any of his “fun” songs. He played “Loser” for crying out loud! But to break up that “Jack-Ass/Pay No Mind” build-up with the funereal “Paper Tiger” was enough to make me want to smash Beck’s acoustic guitar over my own head.

The saving grace throughout the set was the Flaming Lip’s Wayne Coyne, who was obviously so excited to be up on stage with Beck that his joy was contagious. It made it even more criminal that the Lips’ opening set was cut short just after a half-hour.

I’m certain Beck’s set will improve as this tour goes on and things get worked out and tightened up. It’s just too bad that the show I happened to catch was only the third one they played on this tour. Hopefully, they’ll get their act together and come back around.

For more Glorious Noise Beck coverage, see Derek Phillips’ article about Sea Change. You’ll find tons of info and analysis about Beck’s songs on Almost a Ghost.

24 thoughts on “Beck’s Bipolar Brouhaha”

  1. I was at the show and I noticed a strange vibe on stage even from my last row center seat in the balcony. I thought that Wayne Coyne may’ve been over stepping his bounds a bit, but then I realized that he seemed to be the only one who was enjoying himself up there. His enthusiasm was genuine and innocent and contagious enough that it tore down whatever ‘rock show’ posings were present. I thought the lips set was fantastic and had a bit more emotional resonance than the Beck stuff.

    I’m a bit biased here, I’m not as familiar with his catalog as I am with the lips’. Any thoughts on their interpretations of his songs. Were they pretty much by the book renditions, faithful to the record, or did they add their own touches to change up the sound?

  2. whoah, everybody, easy with the ‘greatest songwriter of our generation’ and ‘lennon of our time’ statements. this is just one man out of many who just happens to have some great ideas. I thought Cobain was the Lennon of our generation, or was it Corgan? Maybe now it’s Jack White and then next week it’ll be Elliot Smith and hopefully next month it’ll be Kathleen Hanna, or even you or me.

  3. Beck is Beck, Lennon is Lennon, Cobain is Cobain. I don’t know what you people are hearing but of course there will be “reminders” of other people’s music in everyone’s music. Think of the number of songs that have been written – I find it amazing people are still finding new things to do. Also, I know the Beatles were pretty mainstream, but I wouldn’t consider Beck that popular. He knows this and he used his tour in August with small audiences to do the different songs and go off on tangents telling his stories (which is the best part!). It’s unfortunate if you didn’t make it out to that!

    Last night in Toronto he did the same thing you meantion. He feels he has to play Odelay and Mellowgold stuff cause there might not be diehard fans there, plus I’d imagine the Flamming Lips haven’t learned every one of his songs. But he also wanted to do the new album and there is such a big contrast. I don’t think it would have been good if he had done the whole new album and then all of Odelay or something. Yes, it’s a strange setlist, but it’s apparent Beck is getting older. He can’t do the dancing and everything and he refuses to be pigeonholed as “the guy that dances”, but he likes to please the fans. That’s a long and complicated explaination I guess…but I’ve enjoyed all 4 times I’ve seen Beck live. Sure, not every live show is perfect, but that’s for the boybands. ;)

  4. Beck is Beck is Beck. A couple months after “Midnite Vultures” came out, after every rock critic tried to pin Sly Stone, Rick James, Prince, or “Black and Blue”-era Mick Jagger as his primary influence on that album, Beck trumped everyone with the revelation that Timbaland had been a huge inspiration. Beck abhors predictability and definition.

  5. i adore beck. i think he has a super hard time trying to play to his audiences, cause he knows there is probably such a mixed crowd, and while i don;t think he makes his albums really to please anyone in particular other than himself, i do think he puts a lot of thought into mixing up his live act, trying to please everyone (recent and amazing solo acoustic tour aside). i’ve heard mixed reviews of this tour from lots of sources, which is a bit disheartening, but i have faith and hopefully he will have it more together by the time he makes it out to me in sf.

  6. S.

    It’s not that it was a bad show (I was there with Jake too), it’s just that the pacing of the set was a little uneven. That’s to be expected early in a tour especially when the “backing band” isn’t the usual suspects.

    Also, Sea Change is such a different album from some of the big hits that I think it’s just going to take some time to figure out how it all fits together so Beck is playing the songs he really wants to and the fans (from die hards to Loser devotees) walk away pleased. No need to feel like this is a bad tour or anything. Not at all.

  7. thanks d., i must have come off more worried than i actually am. i’m sure i will be delighted to be there to take in whatever beck wants to throw at me, pretty much. i just want him to be able to do whatever he feels, you know? to not have to cater to the radio fans…

  8. I agree entirely. I know lots of people who get angry when musicians don’t play all their hits or don’t play them exactly as they’re recorded. Why would you want that? Can’t you just listen to your CD? I love it when an artist gives me something different and new in concert. That’s why I was so excited to see this show because I love the Flaming Lips and found the idea of them backing Beck so intriguing. It’s a totally cool show and should just get better as they iron shit out over the next couple of weeks.

  9. The setlist in Detroit was very similar. I purposely didn’t read Jake’s article before going, but now that I’ve read it, the pacing was, as you might expect, very similar. The uptempo songs were very mixed with the new, calm, morose songs.

    I’m going to agree with Mark up there and speculate that Beck did it because he wanted to defy classification. On Midnite Vultures, it was a vibe. From all I’ve heard about the following tour, it was a party. I think he wanted to defy classification as an “entertainer” rather than a musician. He purposely mixed up the songs on tour because he is trying to highlight the music, and draw attention to the individual songs.

    This show changed my life. The music was really making me reflect…

  10. Beck…Beck..Beck…

    What about the Lips?! A fiend said that they had so much pre-recorded that Wayne didn’t even play the guitar he was holding. True or False?

  11. There was a lot of sampled music in the Lips’ set, including the start/stop intro to “Yoshimi,” but Wayne did play his guitar. We’re not talking about Elvis here.

    The Lips decided quite some time ago that to write and record the kind of music they wanted to do would require redefining their live shows. They can’t play like a “regular” band anymore.

    Seeing the Lips live now is similar to what Johnny described in his SFA article (http://www.gloriousnoise.com/arch/000636.php ) in that these bands are changing how sampling and loops can be used in a live setting. It’s not to mask poor musicianship but to explore new sounds not possible with traditional instruments.

  12. I am normally a big fan of true live music, but if true live music has to be thrown out the window to create a flashing audiovisual spaz-wad of altrustic joy, such as that which the Flaming Lips orchestrated on stage, so be it!

    I think Wayne Coyne played with lighting more than he played his guitar, when the Lips backed Beck! And he saluted the crowd more than he played the lights *or* guitar!

    The Lips have made a risky but worthy trade in rock and roll, and they have come up with a show that… changes lives! (arm gesture) uuuaaa! YES!

  13. the sad thing is that wayne coyne is actually a pretty great guitar player and steve drozd is actually a pretty great drummer. They’re just fun to watch perform. I do like coyne’s glorified cheerleader role, and it was good to see him at least holding a guitar.

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