Beck review – human jukebox throws a giant house party

Albert Hall, Manchester
The pop maverick marshalled his many guises for an exhilarating two-hour set that veered from acoustic ballads to rubbery funk and jerky new wave

Ever since Beck Hansen broke into the mainstream with 1994’s Loser, he’s been one of pop’s premier shapeshifters. With that copper-bottomed worldwide smash behind him, he’s hurtled from rubbery funker to psychedelic showman, from hip hop-infused post-grunger to acoustic balladeer. Even his blond barnet has undergone many metamorphoses, from sharp Devil’s Haircut to an outgrown shaggy mass that could have seen him mistaken for the abominable snowman.

Here, the mop is stylishly trimmed again as he unveils another persona, a hyperactive song-and-dance man. “Hi, how ya doing?” he asks as he bounces on, in a leather biker’s jacket and fetching trilby. Within seconds, he’s feigning electrocution, punching the air and launching into a triple whammy of his better-known tunes. Devil’s Haircut and Black Tambourine crash into the timelessly anthemic Loser, sung by the entire audience, which sets the tone for an exhilarating two-hour party.

‘We’re gonna have a good one tonight’ … Beck.
‘We’re gonna have a good one tonight’ … Beck. Photograph: Phil Bourne/Redferns

“We’re gonna have a good one tonight,” grins the 45-year-old, admitting to feeling inspired by the atmosphere in this former Wesleyan chapel, with the evening sun streaming through stained-glass windows. Moments later, he’s asking the audience to shout “Hell yes!” if they feel the spirit.

After the 2005 spinal injury that threatened his touring, and a spell in which he seemed to lose interest in making records, it’s a delight to see Beck dust off his old James Brown dance spins and happily play the role of human jukebox. Although this greatest-hits set mixes styles – from sub bass grooves to Parliament-ary funk to grungy rock or jerky new wave – and feels as unpredictable as an iPod shuffle, themes do emerge.

One is his predominant love of 60s pop. Another is his mastery of relocation. The New Pollution takes the Beatles’ Taxman riff to a psychedelic planet and Jack-Ass builds something hazy and dreamlike on a snatch of Them’s 1966 cover of Dylan’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. Beck visits one album after another, and a dollop of songs from 2014’s excellent Morning Phase see him lose the hat and jacket and grab an acoustic guitar to unleash his inner Simon and Garfunkel. With eyes closed, he seems lost in these beautiful, gentler songs, making an emotional connection before the mood switches yet again.

“Now we’re gonna get rowdy again,” he yells as selections from Odelay (“20 years old today”) begin a home run that gradually brings the house down. The most recent song, 2015’s Dreams, triggers a crowd chorus of “whoah whoah whoahs” and E-Pro sees the same with Hey Jude-type “nah nah nahs”. Even the band introductions provide an excuse for Beck’s impromptu raps over bursts of Prince, Bowie, Kraftwerk and Chic.

“Thank you for letting me go in all these directions,” he grins, before returning in white hat and jacket, as a hip-hop homage Where It’s At closes a gig that felt more like a giant house party.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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