Whatever criticisms he’s faced recently you could never accuse Beckof being predictable. Who would have thought, for example, that afterOdelay would come a whimsical folksy album such as Mutations? Or thatafter Mutations would come a Motown/funk inspired album like MidniteVultures? Or even that that album would then be followed by such adowntempo, folk-country affair as Sea Changes? The man is a veritablechameleon, trying out different musical styles, to varying degrees ofsuccess, like a different suit for each day of the week.
So which way has he gone with new album Guero then? Well, it’s beingtouted by some as being a return to the days of Odelay, albeit becausehe’s teamed up with the Dust Brothers on production dutiesagain. There seems to be an acknowledgement of this tonight; in a setprincipally populated by tracks from the new album there are two Odelayfavourites – Where It’s At and Devil’s Haircut – which fit snugly intothe new setlist.
From the airing we’re given tonight, it sounds like Guero is verymuch Beck exploring his fascination with hip hop, with the emphasisvery much on the old school. The new songs reveal a firm nod towardspioneers like Grandmaster Flash and Beck’s rapping is groundedin a style reminiscent of Grandmaster Melle Mel (albeit throughBeck’s slightly skewed take on it). Vintage synth noises are fused withfunk percussion and occasional scratching by Beck himself when the moodtakes him. It’s all very much about groove and rhythm – various handshakers and maracas feature heavily throughout the gig and openingtrack, Black Tambourine uses two drummers.
Speaking of maracas – the old school sound was complimented by oneof his band members (Beck’s Bez, if you like) providing some roboticsand body popping-style dance moves. I must admit I laughed out loudwhen he first started – but that was mainly because he looks a littlelike Dave Stewart in his white plastic shades, white anorak andwhite jeans. Once I’d leapt that hurdle he became the coolest person inthe room.
Beck, however, wasn’t having a great time of it. The occasion beinga low-key, (not-so) secret gig to preview his new record, he seemed tobe constantly fiddling with his vocal levels, and confessed at onepoint to being jet-lagged. By the encore, when his microphone escapedhim just as he was about to launch into the next verse, he was lookingpretty pissed off, and stomped off stage before the song ended, neverto return.
Still, if he manages to be this good on a bad night, he’s not gotmuch to worry about. The slight air of chaos didn’t do the gig any harmat all. Beck has an impressive knack of making all his creations soundlike the result of a haphazard experiment gone right, and tonight wasno different. He may be unpredictable, but whatever he does you knowyou’re always going to get something worth listening to.