Sea Change, Beck’s latest release is a very moving and heartfelt affair. Described by Rolling Stone in its five star review as his “his Blood on the Tracks”, it is filled with some very powerful laments to the ending of love. Song writing like that doesn’t come around every day. This is brave stuff – he is literally opening his heart.
His solo performance at the Royal Albert Hall, part of a ten date solo European tour, brought that passion even closer to home and reminded me that Beck has just added another important chapter to a highly accomplished body of work.
“This is my stage, this is my piano” he told us. And it certainly was – nothing but a rack of guitars, a somewhat battered upright piano and a Wurlitzer organ. He moved between these instruments with ease, as he moved between musical styles. Although there was no dancing, no swinging of his guitar behind his back, Beck the showman was definitely alive and well. His small figure and youthful looks struck a sharp contrast with the depth and power of his voice.
He began by treating his audience to several of his wounded melancholic numbers from Sea Change such as Guess I’m Doing Fine – it was full of feeling, and you know he means what he sings. Then the fun started with Nicotine and Gravy that was stripped to its bones – just Beck, a drum machine and the Wurlitzer. More popular hits, such as Loser with a heavy electric guitar and Tropicalia on piano, were given new form and made real entertainment.
And then we were back to the desolate landscape of Sea Change – Golden Age: “There’s distant lights / But here they’re far and few / And the sun don’t shine / Even when its day”. The slide guitar came out and we went for a foray into delta blues that included a rendition of the “first blues song I ever learnt” and a humorous gripe about Budweiser’s monopoly of the blues. We were given just a brief taste of Beck’s extraordinary falsetto performance in Debra when he stopped half way through, shook his head and smiled: “I don’t know how many times I’ve sung this song.”
After two encores the two-hour set came to an end with Beck standing centre stage stamping the ground for a beat and cajoling his captivated crowd with his harmonica.