The 100-minute performance was twice as long as his Coachella set and certainly under more pleasant, less blustery conditions: the cosy confines of legendary producer/mixer Bob Clearmountain’s studio, which tightly packed in 200 of the public radio station’s supporters.
Beck opened with the elegant “The Golden Age” from 2002’s “Sea Change,” before gliding into three songs from his excellent new album (and “Sea Change” sequel of sorts), “Morning Phase”: the Beatle-esque “Blackbird Chain,” mournful “Say Goodbye,” and sorrowful “Don’t Let It Go.”
The largely acoustic quartet of tunes allowed Beck to warm up, with his confidence seemingly growing with each song. As he noted, he’d only played the new material a handful of times, and while he felt uncomfortable enough to come back after the show ended and record five of the tunes again (in front of the lucky few still at the studio), his decision had more to do with his perfectionism than the songs being rendered poorly (other than a few botched lyrics).
In fact, from the start, the material popped live in a way the songs don’t on the more muted albums, due to Beck’s extraordinary band. Smokey Hormel’s slide guitar on “The Golden Age” sent the song soaring, while Roger Manning’s keyboard outro on “Blackbird” rose to a new poignancy (perhaps because the delicate strings that frame the song on the album were absent) and Manning’s banjo plucking on “Say Goodbye” added a piquant tilt to the song.
Following a short interview with KCRW “Morning Becomes Eclectic” host, Jason Bentley, in which a fairly laconic Beck compared playing Coachella to “trying to sing into a wind tunnel,” he returned to the music. He also elaborating on the rumor that he may have another album out soon. He said the songs were more "loud and boisterous" than those on "Morning Phase." "I'm hoping to get it out this year," he said.
The second half also featured three songs from “Morning Phase,” as well as one from “Sea Change.” While the idea was, undoubtedly, to showcase the new album, Beck was clearly also aware that “Sea Change” and “Morning Phase” make such beautiful bookends that pairing songs from the two albums kept a consistent, dream-like state to the evening, with the atmospheric songs easily melding into the next stylistically. Starting with the “Morning Phase’s” closing track, the gentle, Pink Floyd-like “Waking Light,” he segued into the folky “Country Down,” “Sea Changes’” gorgeous, bitter “Lost Cause,” and strum my, harmony-filled “Blue Moon.”
A visibly more relaxed Beck came back for a searing 7-song encore. With Beck looking as if he was relieved the recital portion of the evening was over, the loose-limbed encore was as jubilant and upbeat as the previous section had been meditative, and yet both were equally enjoyable and representative of the breadth of Beck’s talents.
With encore opener, “Soldier Jane,” it was clear the band members, especially ferocious drummer Joey Waronker, were ready to bust loose a little following the fairly restrained “Morning Phase” arrangements. On the bouncy “Think I’m in Love,” as the band had at Coachella, Beck joyously moved into Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” closing his eyes and raising his arms, putting down his guitar to start a dance party. (He earlier told Bentley that Summer’s song was a revelation to him and the first time he remembered hearing synthesizers and their possibilities.) “I see a mosh pit developing,” he joked to the audience, before exploding into the fun, feral stomp of “Devil’s Haircut.” The song came delightfully unhinged at the end as it felt like the studio could levitate.
Following the swampy pop of “Soul of a Man” and tribal swagger of “Black Tambourine,” Beck and his remarkably tight band bust into “Odelay’s” sinewy “Sissyneck.” Toward the end, Beck looked at bassist Justin Meldal-Johnson and playfully asked, “What’s that bass line?” as Meldal-Johnson picked up the hint and began playing Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” “We do play weddings, anniversaries and funerals,” Beck joked as the band turned Apogee Studios into a disco-cum-Bar Mitzvah with Manning taking over vocals for the “Billie Jean” bridge and Hormel duplicating the famous guitar break beautifully. Beck even attempted to moon walk. “I’m not wearing the right jacket,” he said, shrugging off his comical effort. “It doesn’t work with suede.”
Beck closed the encore with an “E-Pro” singalong, during which it was hard to tell if he or the audience was having more fun. We’ll call it a toss-up.
The concert and interview will air on KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” on April 23 as well as stream on www.kcrw.com.