Saturday, July 12, 2014

Beck gets his groove back at first Charlotte show in 18 years

The last time Beck played Charlotte, Clinton was in office, O.J. Simpson was on trial, and Lorde was still a month and a half away from her birth. A lot has happened in the eclectic songwriter/performer's career in 18 years and while he hit on every phase, he opened his show at Uptown Amptheathre Friday by turning back the clock to the last time Charlotte saw him.

He front loaded his set with crowd rousing `90s hits that anyone who hadn't peaked at recent set lists may not have expected. He stepped on stage blasting the opening of "Devil's Haircut" and I was reminded of what a strong live performer he can be. It was as if he was making up for lost time bouncing through "Black Tambourine" and rapping at the front of the stage for "Loser," playing his biggest hit and the `90s alt-rock radio staple just three songs into the set.

With the warm reception for his first album in six years "Morning Phase," he could have turned in a chill psychedelic-folk set that might've pleased many, but following a spine injury that kept him off the road for several years Beck wanted to get his groove on.

"I don't care about being cool," he uttered as he segued from "Sissyneck" to "Billie Jean," putting his jacket and hat on to channel Michael. "I just wanna dance." And dance he did. He and bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen playfully broke out hip-hop moves for "Loser." He put down his guitar and grabbed the microphone to strut at the front of the stage often. He had to repeat his spinning jacket removal with a laugh, saying "Let me try that again," when it didn't come off smoothly the first time during "New Pollution." It was one of a couple moments where the line between performer and person disappeared and the crowd

got a candid glimpse of a regular guy whose musical and stage skills are quite extraordinary.

Beck may be regarded more for his eclectic recorded catalog and less for his live performances (at least locally), but maybe that's only because he's hardly ever played here. He kept fans rapt most of the night flipping from his hip-hop/blues phase to his Spanish-influenced funk phase to stripped down folk and psychedelic material. I was reminded at some point that his stylistic trajectory from hip-hop to rock to dance music and countrified folk mirrors fellow `90s alum Kid Rock's, if said mirror is of the funhouse variety.

Between early dance numbers he turned in an A cappella "One Foot in the Grave." He surprised with mid-song covers of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" (during "I Think I'm in Love") and "Billie Jean" that seemed nearly spontaneous. The thuddy, methodical stoner rock of "Soul of Man" dipped into Queens of the Stone Age territory while also added cause for consideration on Beck's influence on Jack White.

The toned down material from 2002's "Sea Change" and "Morning Phase" were as riveting (or nearly so) as old hits. "The Golden Age" and "Lost Cause" (two personal favorites from "Sea Change") precluded the newer song "Blue Moon," which he dedicated to the full moon. After stepping back into the more upbeat material of "Modern Guilt," and the Latin groove of "Que Onda Guero" and "Hotwax," he and his seven piece band revisited more acoustic-based material with "Heart is a Drum," "Say Goodbye" and "Waking Light."

Awash in rich harmonies, the former rang like `70s SoCal country rock, while "Say Goodbye" featured keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. (of Jellyfish) on banjo. Beck noted that this run is special because he's back with the musicians that recorded both "Sea Change" and "Morning Phase."

"The best these songs will ever get is with these gentlemen," he said. The sound was full, warm and fully realized although at times bulky with three and four guitarists, including Beck, sharing the stage at once.

The sound was actually clearer during Ghost of the Saber Tooth Tiger, the band fronted by Sean Lennon (pictured) and girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl that started the show. The swelling band has become a well oiled psychedelic rock machine. The performance wasn't as lively and energetic as Beck's by any means, but the five-piece band proved pros with beautiful near-album renditions of songs from 2014's "Midnight Sun."

Beck smartly flipped back to party mode ending with "E-Pro" before returning for a three-song encore that played up his wackier side with "Hell Yes" and "Debra." Both seemed to honor the couple in front of us that wouldn't stop aggressively groping each other.

Beck capped the night with "Where It's At." He mentioned earlier that he hopes to do it all again next summer. Let's hope it's not almost another couple of decades before we see him again.

Check out the full set list here.