At Coachella, Beck leaves his 'mourning phase' behind.
It was unclear which version of acclaimed songwriter Beck would emerge onstage on the last night of this year's first weekend of Coachella (April 13). The acclaimed, diverse songwriter's most recent album, the slow, brilliant "Morning Phase," is a sort of companion piece to his classic "Sea Change," itself a somber, reflective record, and he hasn't yet toured to promote it -- but, in various incarnations over the years -- including in 1999, when he headlined the very first Coachella -- Beck brings the party, indulging his celebratory id, to joyous, nerdy effect.
It's been a while since Southern California has seen that far more fun version of its favorite hipster son, so it was a welcome sight when he emerged with his 1999-era band (including guitarist Smokey Hormel and bassist Justin Meldal-Johnson) and launched right into a beefed-up "Devil's Haircut," screaming through the chorus with vintage aplomb. The band immediately followed that up with "Loser," Beck's breakthrough hit; instead of re-jiggering the song as they have in the past, Beck and his band played it straightforward, almost as if to say, "here's how you knew me then -- just a reminder that I've still got it in me."
Of course -- after pummelling through mid-period songs like "Black Tambourine" and a beefed-up "Gamma Ray," there was a mid-set moment to slow everything down, and the version of the "Morning Phase" highlight "Blue Moon" that followed was elegant, as was the "Sea Change" slowdown "The Golden Age." But the real highlight of the set was some articulate banter about the festival's history: Beck recounted walking the polo field with no one on it before that first year, trusting the promoters that someday, the festival could be something special.
This set -- which closed with a segue from "Where It's At" into the solo harmonica "One Foot in the Grave" and back (including a line-dance onstage as his young son played tambourine) before the sound was cut for time -- was an acknowledgment of that history, with Beck firmly straddling the wall between his now-storied history and his unquestionably deserved, unexpected prominence going into the future.