Monday, October 1, 2018

Beck concert review: Hollywood, Calif.

photo: Nick Agro
Beck Hansen is definitely a proud Angeleno.

That was clear from his warm - and often humorous - reflections about growing up in the area during an excellent Hollywood Bowl concert.

“We’re here to celebrate a homecoming,” said the singer/guitarist, who mentioned friends, family and neighbors in attendance. “There’s no better place to be on a Friday night.”

Indeed. Beck’s first headlining gig at the venue since ’08 came amidst more than a year of touring for latest album “Colors.” The solid batch of exuberant pop, rock and dance gems, co-produced and performed by fellow Grammy winner Greg Kurstin, has spawned a career high four top 10 hits at alternative radio.

Hoisting his instrument like a guitar god, Beck and the tight seven-piece backing band (including mainstays Jason Falkner and Roger Joseph Manning Jr.) opened the nearly two-hour set with chugging rocker “Devil’s Haircut.” The musicians were strong out of the gate with “New Pollution,” as dazzling images appeared behind and around them. “Mixed Bizness” was a veritable dance party and had the soulful vibe of a 1960s revue.

An infectious “Up All Night,” from “Colors,” had fans dancing up a storm; Beck did his own spirited moves across the stage. Before “Que Onda Guero,” he talked about how he used to hear the Spanish phrase (loose translation: “What’s up, Whitey?”) while walking around Pico and Union streets in Boyle Heights. “I think it’s more appropriate to do it here than other parts of the country,” Beck said.

The crowd went crazy after he appeared onstage alone with an acoustic guitar for “Debra,” a slow jam prominently featured in the plot of 2017 flick “Baby Driver.” Concertgoers sang along loudly while Beck did his best Prince-style falsetto croon, some funny ad-libs (name checking “the mean streets of Glendale,” Hollywood Blvd., various freeways) and re-iterated that people in other parts of the world don’t always get his playfulness like L.A. does. “You really are the product of your surroundings,” Beck noted.

Recalling a first visit to the Bowl for a Prince concert and being impressed by late The Purple One’s smooth moves, the singer paid tribute with a partial cover of “Raspberry Beret.” After the band returned, even more fans stood and vigorously moved around to the totally funky “Nicotine & Gravy,” which incorporated a snippet of Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It).”

photo: Nick Agro
There were also some rarities in the set, such as the old school drum machine-driven, airy R&B of “Hollywood Freaks” off 1999’s “Midnite Vultures” and a bit of “Truck Drivin’ Neighbors Downstairs” (inspired by weird apartment dwellers on Silverlake Blvd.).

Beck brought out Fred Martin & The Levite Camp, a local gospel group, for his upbeat 1994 blues tunes “Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods” and played harmonica. They also performed the old spiritual “Like a Ship (Without a Sail)” as a salve for the “weird times and rough week” we’ve all had. “I have faith we’ll make it,” said Beck.

Later, an acoustic segment with half the band nicely spotlighted their seamless harmonies on “Lost Cause” and the baroque “Blue Moon.” It was all upbeat grooves from there with the frothy fun of “Dreams,” “Girl,” the hypnotic “Wow,” a rambunctious “Loser” and hard-hitting “E-Pro.”

Come encore time, the choir returned to help elevate ‘Where It’s At” more than usual and Beck introduced the band with cover song snippets comprising Chic, The Stones, New Order and Talking Heads.

St. Vincent opened the evening with a 40-minute DJ set consisting of rap, dance and a few rock songs. Most people chatted away until they heard Beastie Boys or Talking Heads pop up.

A version of my review originally appeared in the Orange County Register and other So Cal News Group newspapers.

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