Ever the musical chameleon, Beck is one of those rare musicians who seems to succeed effortlessly at everything he tries despite having a career that has literally been all over the map. From his earliest ultra-indie lo-fi efforts Golden Feelings and Stereopathic Soulmanure, to his latest, slick synthpop opus Colors, it seems that Beck can do very little wrong. Of course, having such a range almost certainly must complicate things when it’s time to play live. Some artists might solve this by focusing their performance on their most recent work or one particular aspect of their sound. But on Thursday night at The Anthem, Beck brought a little bit of everything, performing a show that spanned his entire career.
Of course it’s been years since Beck has truly been an indie artist, and his stage set, covered with massive LED screens playing shifting videos and scenes programmed to go with each song, made it obvious that this was a big production. His seven-piece band, made up of in-demand session musicians including guitarist Jason Falkner and keyboardist Roger Manning from San Francisco power pop legends Jellyfish, bassist Dwayne Moore, drummer Chris Coleman, and the trio of Alex Lilley, Cecillia Della Peruti, and Jake Sinclair on percussion, guitars, keyboards, and whatever other miscellaneous instruments were needed throughout the night also showed just how far Beck has come since his early recording efforts. But still, despite the size of the stage set, the size of the band, or indeed the size of the venue, Beck managed to play an intimate show that had the entire audience in the palm of his hand for the whole night.
It certainly didn’t hurt that he led in with the classics, some of the songs that made him big. “Devil’s Haircut” and “The New Pollution” may be 22-year-old songs now, and “Loser” may be 24, but starting off the evening they felt as fresh as ever. Beck jumped forward nine years for “Qué Onda Guero” before playing his first track from Colors for the evening (“Wow”). The stylistic differences may not have been as distinct with the songs all arranged for the modern band, but the tracks still displayed Beck’s diversity as a songwriter and a performer. Covering songs from nine of his thirteen albums, the setlist ran the range from the driving rock of “E-Pro,” to the folky balladry of “Heart Is a Drum,” to the funkiness of “Mixed Bizness.” Midway through the show, the band left Beck alone on the stage to play an extended acoustic rendition of “Debra,” which morphed into a cover of Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” before closing out back on the original song.
The band returned for an encore which featured one more song from Colors, “I’m So Free,” before the moment that many in the audience were likely waiting for, “Where It’s At.” Beck extended the song, and band introductions led into a medley of snippets of covers ranging from Chic’s “Good Times,” to the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” to Gary Numan’s “Cars.” After an interlude where Beck broke out a harmonica to play a rendition of early track “One Foot In the Grave” backed only by drums and percussion, the band returned for a reprise of “Where It’s At” to close out the night.
New Zealand singer Kimbra opened the show with a moody, synth-heavy set drawn largely from her recently released third album, Primal Heart.