The word was that Beck was sick — but at least he had seven people to cover for him during an Oct. 6 show in New York. Once upon a time when Beck was still a “Loser” and hadn’t a despairing “Sea Change” to his name, he had much to prove and much to deliver, dancing and all. Now, with his stage entourage, video displays, DJ (yes, he had, at minimum, two turntables) and a dancing-guy-for-hire, his crew simply carries the show with and without him.
The roller coaster of his album history provided big-hit fireworks for the show, even dull ones, with only a few of his career touchstones unturned. Revving up with “Black Tambourine” and “Girl” from “Guero,” Beck and co. easily segued into “Devil’s Haircut” without losing pace or style points. The sheer girth of his backup band was like a three-ring circus, moving the focus from Beck’s peaked state to a guy with funny sunglasses.
While the moppy, skinny-tie dorkiness of Beck bespeckled each awesome, nonsensical lyric, the production and size of each song sometimes melted away some of the very things that make his songs memorable; the beat drowning out Beck’s deadpan Spanish on the “Guero” title track, a very crisp “The New Pollution” less guitar-polluted. “Loser” with backup singers does not a loser make.
Regardless, it was bigness, and not nuance, that the sold-out crowd came for. Slowly, Beck mishmashed several song moments into one body and then settled into “Paper Tiger,” followed by a mighty grouping of “Hotwax,” “Nicotine and Gravy,” “Hell Yes” and “Where It’s At.” For kicks, a giant boom box descended from the ceiling.
He then showed off with a harmonia from India, weaning everyone toward his more stripped-down material with “Lonesome Tears.” For a moment, it seemed like a good time for the band to tune their guitars or switch instruments. Instead, Beck sang and played by himself, while a table and some chairs were ushered onstage and dinner was served to the band while he sang. His charming voice stabbed out several serene minutes, including “Baby I’m Lost”; meanwhile, the listener was also encouraged to observe the absurd spectacle to his left.
His version of the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize” was followed by the delicious, iconic and ironic “Debra.” Inevitably, the band started rhythmically banging on their plates and glasses and the party tide rolled back in with “The Golden Age,” “Sexx Laws,” “Mixed Bizness” and a short visit backstage before the encore “E-Pro” and “Get Real Paid.”
While Beck lost steam progressively, stupid and funny moments like a fake banjo duel or jokes about R. Kelly’s “In The Closet” kept the mood light. However, too many stage antics interfered with the flow. The songs were enormous, the sound was decent, and Beck, well, showed up, in a fedora, no less. Beyond that, any intimacy or a connection to the crowd was lost to the self-conscious self-consciousness of their game plan, the details fun but somewhat forgettable.