I mean, what kind of dumba** even does this, attempts to pontificate on the exact trappings and rudiments under the sun that are to make up the unfolding stage antics of this guy. He’s brought us “Community service and I’m still the mack,” the white-boy spazz-out of Odelay’s “Hotwax,” rolled up into an uncompromising ball of existential confusion with “Sunday Sun,” one of the most lugubrious songs ever recorded, from his post-breakup descent into depression Hades, Sea Change.
I wonder what he thinks of this bevy of rock stars dying lately — Scott Weiland, Lemmy, Glenn Frey and David Bowie. Wouldn’t that be fun, considering he’s Beck and everything — just doing cover songs of the Eagles, STP, Motorhead and Bowie for the whole set? I mean, it’s not like it matters what OWN music he puts out nowadays, nobody even cares that the opening track on Morning Phase is a verbatim ripoff of the Allmans’ “Melissa,” and as we’ve seen, he’s sick of the idea anyway, releasing that one album as sheet music. So breathing trade winds upon each other here, in perfect harmony, are the palpable sense that Beck is tired of being an artist, tired perhaps even of his aphorisms solidifying into immortality, tired of being a product, so to speak, along with the fact that he IS such an archetypal product — a totally original slacker personality, prone to goofing off and self-deprecating, a musical sense that cuts a clown shape from Hank Williams down to Run-DMC, and the ability to just precluding everything else, being a flat out SHOWMAN — just check the official video for “The New Pollution.”
Actually, my first contact with Odelay was that SNL skit with Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri playing the cheerleaders, doing that a capella falsetto rendition of “Where it’s at.” I’d hear “Jack-Ass” on the radio in my car, but actually the guys wouldn’t even say that it was Beck — it sounded a little like him, but being that this was before we had the internet, I had no way of ascertaining. “The New Pollution” surfaced around MTV VMA time, the type of thing to which I was no stranger what with its association of arcane Green Day performances, but this whole thing was as visual as it was aural — the bedecked choir, Beck’s light-blue suit, and of course its association with that classic Jamiroquai runway moonwalking thing.
Odelay is the type of album that sears your expectations of music with a scalding hot iron, but then puts you back together by setting you in stitches, with “Hotwax” and that white boy/black boy motif of “Novacane”/”High 5 (Rock the Catskills),” and such is the cultural relevance of the ensuing disorientation that your standards of an album’s quality are indeed forever altered. The last song is great, and the first song is probably the one I put on mixtapes most (I remember one pitchfork writer naming “Novacane” as his mixtape PTP-er). But it has to be the WEIRDNESS that emerges as sovereign — the in between tracks like “The New Pollution” and “Derelict” — just the actual cognitive reality of taking up this skin amidst all these amalgamated forces like hip-hop and folk, having to be “everything to everyone,” like Everclear said, and so, doing it.
And so why NOT look ahead to this guy’s set? I mean, what’ve got to lose? A little sanity? Our phone? Our girlfriend, our kid? Eh, we’re all part of the total scene, ya know. Gosh, ya know, listening to his last “album,” and using that term loosely, looking at his iTunes picture and in light of the Lou Reed-siphoning Wilco last album, I certainly don’t see Beck’s quest to be Jeff Tweedy growing any LESS palpable. So you can certainly imagine my surprise and delight when, upon consulting God, also known as setlists.fm, I found that Beck is not attempting to be anyone but the him from 22 years ago. “Loser” and “Devil’s Haircut,” two album openers (even placed in chronological order for the concert), kicked off Mr. Hansen’s most recent outing, the “Treasure Island” in Frisco, late October of this past year. In fact, it doesn’t even look like he did many post-Guero songs at all. Scrolling though a couple other set lists you find similar up-beat selections, and songs which showcase the performer’s emceeing ability, from “Loser” to “Que Onda Guero,” on the album cut of which of course you have that ess-e acting like he wants to get that “new Yani cassette.” And there’s the Midnite Vultures inclusions: “Sexx Laws” and “Debra,” reminding you that this is supposed to be more a mindless dance-off than period of artistic edification.
This begs the question of how setting will affect Beck’s routine at J&H… will we get a backing band of horns? Will Beck be actually in a good mood, not depressed and weird, like he was on Morning Phase? Not that depressed and weird is necessarily bad, artistically, that is if you’re not ripping off your parents’ music to achieve it. Anyway, the only place I chronicled a Sea Change song was “Golden Age” at this little six-tune outing in LA last year… the rest of the performances have been pretty up-beat and happy-rappy. Still, it’s always puzzling when a press release says something like “Beck Will Be Playing This Year’s Jazz & Heritage Festival,” as if we’re supposed to have any idea what that means.