In 1998, I went to my first major music festival, the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, D.C. While I won’t complain given the many great artists I did see at RFK Stadium that weekend, I, like everyone else, didn’t get to see Beck perform due to a freak weather incident that cancelled the first day midway through. Fast forward to 2003 when New Yorkers were excited for the Field Day Festival in Long Island, a major camping event for the city. Unfortunately, permit issues (or something) rendered the original two-day festival impossible to put on but the organizers managed to compromise the event into a one-day show at the Meadowlands. Field Day was super rainy, but no one pulled the plug fortunately. Unfortunately however, during the set change before Beck, the artist apparently slipped and hurt himself backstage, prompting the organizers to reset the stage for following act. Mr. Hansen never performed.
Cut again to 11 years later to find Beck lining up two NYC shows, one indoors at the Hammerstein Ballroom and one outdoors at Summerstage. I still hadn’t seen him perform (the blame is on me for any lack of trying), but I placed my bets and went to see him at Summerstage. A week before the show, the forecast called for rain. As the day approached however, the precipitation was pushed back and lo and behold, nice weather held up for July 1st and I finally saw Beck live. With over 20 years of hits, and his regular entourage of studio musicians on stage with him, Beck gave a stellar performance, easily one of the top I’ve seen.
The evening’s opener was Sean Lennon’s current band, with his girlfriend, the model and singer Charlotte Kemp Muhl, the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (GOASTT). Lennon (who I had seen at TFC ‘98) and Kemp’s band produce a ‘70s psychedelic rock blend that bears a lot of similarities to sounds his famous father shaped (that is a good thing). Their first album, Midnight Sun, had just been released in April and they’ve been supported Beck on a few dates before they head off to tour Europe later this Summer. GOASTT’s trip was a brief 30 minutes long but they packed in plenty of freak with songs like “Poor Paul Getty” and “Animals”.
After 45 minutes of stillness and rearranging the stage, Beck kicked off loudly with “Devil’s Haircut”, tacking differently from the previous night when the band began with an acoustic set before they rocked out. Photographers at Summerstage had been asked to shoot the “rock” set, so I anticipated reaching the photo pit a bit into his performance but unbeknownst to me the course had changed! So, as Beck was sharing what was in his mind, I dashed madly to the front, having to push through Lennon and Kemp (I apologize if I was rude!) who were observing on the side.
Beck’s music drips with a sunny vibe that adds to the charm whether it be on his psychedelic rock jams or his more lush folk tracks. When you find that bright sheen which connects classic ‘90s Beck, like Mellow Gold‘s “Loser”, with something like “Waking Light”, from his most recent release, the sensitive and shimmery Morning Phase, it is difficult not to appreciate every musical incarnation of the 43-year-old artist. Every song felt like a classic and even if it wasn’t, Beck’s swagger would make it seem so.
That sensation may also have been assisted by the fact that Beck’s set didn’t favor Morning Phase to a great extent, though I would not have complained if he did include more. “Blue Moon” was gorgeous alongside its stirring Sea Change sister, “Lost Cause” for example. But the upbeat material really held sway once the sun went down. Guerolito tracks, “E-Pro”‘s bombastic chorus incited moshing after the twitchy thrill that came from “Girl”.
A brief pause in Beck’s hour and a half set allowed him to ask what kind of laws they were gonna break tonight—and if you couldn’t guess, those would be the “Sexx Laws”, which had the crowd going wild with its blaring brass instruments.
“Where It’s At”, the final song, meshed with a bit of the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” and it also allowed Beck to introduce his band, who each took the opportunity to solo, and his special guests. A few children now stood alongside the band, adding percussion and sharing in a side to side dance move with the group. Lennon arrived on stage too banging a beribboned tambourine to his own fair share of applause as Beck raised his hand. The conclusion was befitting of a man as prodigious and sometimes as surreptitious as Wonka.
Having never played in Central Park “legally” before this night, Beck still managed to knock one out of the park. His confident, energetic set filled with wild and familiar favorites, combined with the spectacular summer evening, produced a superb night. The perfect opportunity to see the artist I had waited sixteen years for.
The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger:
Soul of a Man
One Foot in the Grave
The New Pollution
I Think I’m in Love / I Feel Love (Donna Summer)
Qué Onda Güero
Heart is a Drum
Where It’s At / Miss You (The Rolling Stones)
Beck tour dates:
07-11 Charlotte, NC - Uptown Amphitheater
07-12 Asheville, NC - Thomas Wolf Auditorium
07-14 Nashville, TN - Ryman Auditorium
07-16 St. Louis, MO - The Pageant
07-18 Chicago, IL - Pitchfork Music Festival
07-19 Grand Rapids, MI - DeVos Performance Hall
07-20 Louisville, KY - Forecastle Festival
07-22 Atlanta, GA - Fox Theater
07-23 Raleigh, NC - Red Hat Amphitheater
07-24 Columbia, MD - Merriweather Post Pavilion
07-27 Philadelphia, PA - XPN Festival
08-15 Morrison, CO - Red Rocks
08-29-31 County Laois, Ireland - Electric Picnic
09-04 Isle of Wight, England - Bestival
10-03-05 Austin, TX - Austin City Limits
10-10-12 Austin, TX - Austin City Limits