Beck at Electric Ballroom, London, review: Pop at its most vivid
On his breakthrough hits "Where It’s At" and "Loser" Beck shimmied like a one man Beastie Boy to MTV stardom. More recently, his ascent/descent into pastoral melancholy saw him add more Grammy's to his mantelpiece.
Whether he’s a glum Neil Young or a funky Brian Wilson, he’s consistently ducked and weaved away from that purple elephant in the room. Almost.
Tonight, he’s playing a late-announced intimate (by his standards) show, in Camden’s Electric Ballroom. It's a venue where Prince played a headline grabbing, late-announced secret gig on his final trip to the UK.
The Purple One’s scent is still sprayed around the room. As the lights dim, no one is thinking about anything other than the fact Beck - all 5ft 6” of actual Beck! - is about play songs from his bulging catalogue and his brand new album.
After the first wash of sun-dappled melodies ("Blackbird Chain" and "Blue Moon") he says: “We’re gonna start slow... we’re opening for ourselves tonight!” and with that he begins to sing “Baby, I’m a lost, baby I’m a lost cause...”.This tune, from his glorious and career-changing Sea Change, is riddled with doomed sadness.
More of these tear-jerkers open the set. They're the antithesis of his funky indie-disco floor fillers that he’s best known for. And then… Beck enquires “Can I disrupt your contemplation for a moment?” and - bam! - he rocks into "Devil’s Haircut" with its dirty riff and slushy centre. Predictably, the room erupts.
Beck is dressed as a Mexican figurine. His white Tom Wolfe-like suit encases a when-does-the-party-start Hawaiian shirt. The look is completed with his now trademark fedora hat. With "Qué Onda Güero" he acts as a Spanish MC and we're transported to a party far away.
With Kaiser Chiefs-y "ooooh-woah-ohs" we're back in the room. The football chants are countered by intricate banjo twanging. As gears shift, it starts to feel like a series of hot pockets, with occasional breaks for glorious pools of sound. Beck's ability to create glorious landscapes of gloom is unmistakable.
This big vista pop is perhaps at its most vivid on new tunes from his 13th album Colors. There’s the giddy-up-giddy-upping "Wow", the stuttering Justin Timberlake Acid Test of "D-d-dr-dreamsssss (dreams!)", and the hip-shaking "Up All Night".
There’s a hint of candyfloss flickering in the pink mountain mist on these new tunes. None moreso than on the album’s title track "Colors", which is debuted live tonight. Its verses bounce into Daft Punk-style bridge that feels like sprawling calm before a big Katy Perry pop storm.
What follows is classic Beck: an undeniable groove that riddles its way through your head. It's a club-friendly earworm that’s as fit for Pixar soundtracks as it is for daytime radio. Beck's ability to straddle these worlds in a few seconds of song is just as wonderful as his catalogue’s extreme contrasts of childish fun and noir sadness. Tonight, we got to see all sides of Beck’s sphere. Each side more intriguing the last.
Sean Adams is the founder of Drowned In Sound and social media producer for BBC 6 Music - find him on Twitter @seaninsound