Did he really think—did any of us really think—he'd be the one to enjoy a shape-shifting career unmatched by any of his alt-rock nation contemporaries? Last night at Prospect Park, he ran through the many stages of his catalog, straight-faced as ever. Let's take look, shall we?
Hearing "One Foot in the Grave" from his oddball collection of pre-Mellow Gold recordings so early in the night, only after "Devil's Haircut" and "Black Tambourine," suggests some deliberate set list handiwork. Watching Beck now—his backing band taking a rest as he stomps out coal-miner harmonica blues twisted with interspersed raps—and knowing the many ways his career would veer in the years after writing it, was his way of reminding us that his high regard for folk music remains prominent. Though quick to subvert it, his respect for it has always been pure.
The Pseudo Slacker
The offense he took at being called the poster boy of a slacker generation has been well documented through the years, though, really, his I-couldn't-care-less press persona of 1994 didn't do much to combat it. (For quick comparison, here's a more recent interview with Conan.) Last night, he doled out a few twangy strums on a banjo, casually teasing the audience: "You might know this one." After a quick instrument switch, one of the most familiar guitar riffs of the 90s. I suppose the fact that he's willing to play "Loser" means he's come to peace with the misguided "one-hit wonder slacker" accusations of long ago. A 20-year career seems like a pretty good way to avenge it. The crowd shows their appreciation by shouting botched Spanish in gleeful unison.
The Confused White Boy
"Sissyneck" is a better song than you ever remember it being. In its four minutes we hear Beck caught between wanting to be a cowboy and a smooth operating R&B soulman. The latter won the battle last night when the circular, giddy-up beat behind "a stolen wife and a rhinestone life" morphs into a cover of "Billie Jean." Beck goes for it, sliding and spinning across the stage with swagger before snapping back into straight-faced mode and finishing off the Odelay cut.
Notably Missing: The (Ashamed) Disco Dancer
And that's the closest we'll get to hearing the falsetto-ed Beck from Midnite Vultures. While songs like "Gamma Ray" and "Que 'Onda Guero" are played with a harder rock edge for optimum crowd movement, his most aggressively danceable album, with its pulsating funk and disco beats, is left entirely off the set list. Initially panned by critics seemingly confused by how far it deviated from his previous work, we might have a Pinkerton on our hands.
The Sad-Sack Singer-Songwriter
Let's just say that, following a dance party, the heartache of "Lost Cause" and "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime" becomes especially palpable. And with the band from Sea Change on tour with him, they're primed to drag yours through gutter.
The Door-to-Door Salesman
Maybe it's the black blazer and wide-rimmed hat that makes Beck look like a Jehovah's Witness or the fact that his last album was a beautifully bound book of sheet music (from which he plays a sad-eyed, ukulele-adorned number), but it's probably his catch-all bag of tricks that makes me think of a man selling instruments at your doorstep. Do you want to dance to a shimmy like on "Gamma Ray?" He can make that happen. Feel like fist pumping to a gangbuster like "E-Pro?" Got you covered. Looking to undercut sweet-cheeked sentiments with a seedy bassline like on "Think I'm in Love?" Look no further. Beck's got you covered. Again and again and again.