Beck performed at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda, on Monday, 3rd April.
There was a touch of Springsteen on Broadway to Beck’s solo acoustic show at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre. The LA songwriter had prepared some of his between-song patter in advance, telling us of how 1994’s ‘Pay No Mind (Snoozer)’ reflected the anti-commercial sentiment of the era in which it was written, and how his cover of The Korgis’ ‘Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime’ sprang out of an evening at Michel Gondry’s house, where the Eternal Sunshine director served up pancakes and ice cream for dinner.
But Beck proved a more meandering master of ceremonies than the Boss, and the setlist included several songs his fans might’ve guessed they’d never see live. Mellow Gold‘s ‘Nitemare Hippy Girl’ was one of them, a snippy, goofy love song dedicated to women of the “vegan persuasion”; ‘Rowboat’ was another, a straight country song from Beck’s pre-fame release, Stereopathetic Soulmanure, which Johnny Cash recorded for his 1996 album American II: Unchained.
Beck – ‘Rowboat’
Beck recalled playing at the Palais 20 years ago, on the Sea Change tour, and that album accounted for a greater proportion of the setlist than any other release in Beck’s 14-album back catalogue. 2014’s Morning Phase is generally seen as a successor to the canonical Sea Change, but its three setlist contributions failed to tickle one’s finer feelings in the same manner as ‘Golden Age’ and ‘Guess I’m Doing Fine’.
The solo acoustic conceit was scrapped midway through the show as Beck was joined by Lost Ragas’ Shane Reilly on pedal steel and electric guitar and Shawn Supra on double bass. Their inclusion allowed Beck to expand the show’s stylistic focus. With a drum machine at his feet, we heard the bossa nova ‘Tropicalia’ and a ramshackle take on ‘Debra’, a “sexy song” in which Beck subbed out the word “Glendale” for “St Kilda”.
Beck – ‘Tropicalia’
Intimate, seated shows can often induce a hushed atmosphere, but Beck was comfortable from the outset, and the doting audience mirrored his enthusiasm. The theatre took on a rowdy din when he asked if we had any requests. (He ultimately played ‘Gamma Ray’ but we suspect it was already on the setlist). The crowd was only too happy to chime in during Beck’s newest song – working title ‘Rebel Soul’ – which featured lyrics about “living on the edge” and making strong pots of coffee, composed entirely by ChatGPT.
His 1993 breakout single ‘Loser’ benefitted from the audience’s eager background vocals, likewise a cover of Neil Young’s ‘Old Man’. The show concluded with a cover of Daniel Johnston’s typically ingenuous ‘True Love Will Find You in the End’, which harked back to Beck’s anti-folk origins and illuminated how little he seems to have changed despite several decades of international fame and Scientology.
The two-hour show took us through to 11pm on a Monday night, but we left feeling optimistic about Beck’s ability to remain a compelling figure as he enters the next phase of his career.