Two of the greatest singer-songwriters to ever capture the hopeful, maverick spirit of Los Angeles are Beck and Tom Petty — whether it’s the former’s nods to the city’s multiculturalism (“Qué Onda Guero,” “Tropicalia”) and fine fast-food dining (the tasty Zankou Chicken shout-out in “Debra”), or the latter’s odes to the San Fernando Valley and Century City. So on Wednesday, as Beck played Hollywood’s historic, intimate John Anson Ford Amphitheatre — his first local show since Petty’s Oct. 2 death — it was time for one L.A. legend to salute another.
“The last 40 years of music just wouldn’t be the same without [Tom Petty],” Beck told the cheering, 1,200-capacity crowd, as he and guitarist Jason Falkner shared vocal duties on a rousing rendition of “American Girl” — the very last song Petty played at his final show, which took place Sept. 25, just up the street at the Hollywood Bowl. “We love you, Tom Petty. We love you, the Heartbreakers!”
When Beck wasn’t expressing his affection for Petty, he was playing one love song after another for Los Angeles, calling out to his many friends in the audience at this “hometown gig” (including Coldplay’s Chris Martin, to whom he dedicated the Morning Phase ballad “Heart Is a Drum”); making sure to note that his breakthrough hit “Loser” was “recorded in Hollywood”; and describing his mini-set of finger-picking folk ballads as “Laurel Canyon songs.”
“We should have just had a BBQ; [this concert is] literally in our backyard,” Beck joked. Later he paused, gazed up at the starry skies and surrounding Hollywood Hills foliage, and gushed, “Let me take a minute, take this in.” He also gave audience members a little history lesson about the “city that erases itself every 30 or 40 years,” telling a tall tale about a man named Greek George who used to race camels down nearly Highland Avenue, and noted that his black-and-gray palm-tree-print shirt was a special wardrobe choice for the occasion: “This isn’t a tropical palm tree print, this is a Los Angeles palm trees shirt. It’s full of rats. It has a garbage can on it.”
After a nearly two-hour greatest-hits revue — which was surprisingly light on tracks from Beck’s excellent, just-released 13th studio album Colors, but included nearly every song a Beck fan would want to hear (from “One Foot in the Grave” to “Where It’s At” to “Lost Cause”) — the show devolved into a thoroughly enjoyable jam session, the highlight of which was the Petty tribute. “This isn’t even a show anymore; this is just a get-together. This what we do when no one’s watching,” Beck chuckled, after keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning Jr. pulled off a pitch- and note-perfect Michael McDonald impersonation on the Doobies’ “Takin’ It to the Streets,” punctuated with an even more high-pitched bit of “What a Fool Believes.” (Side note: Beck’s current band lineup might be the closest thing we ever get to a Jellyfish reunion, with both Falkner and Manning in the fold.)
The evening ended with an epic “Where It’s At”/“Debra” mashup, the latter song truly embodying Beck’s oddball affection for his idiosyncratic city. Back in the post-hair-metal ’90s, the anti-rock-star Silver Lake scene spawned ultimate lovable loser Beck, whose “Debra” just might be the geekiest seduction attempt ever recorded: a slow-jam about a wannabe Lothario taking a Glendale Galleria shopgirl on cheap dream date to Sunset Boulevard’s Zankou Chicken. As the above-mentioned Petty once said, even the losers get lucky sometimes, and the 1,200 Angelenos who witnessed this “Loser’s” perfect show were very lucky indeed.