Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Beck plays the punk in fierce, raw set

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Perez of BECK 684.jpg
Beck performing in concert Thursday night at the Aragon Ballroom. (Marty Perez/For the Sun-Times)


Beck took off his lavender floppy hat and serenaded the crowd just once Thursday, the first of two sold-out nights at the Aragon. Affecting the seductive gait of a ranchero singer, he crooned in a bit in Spanish (on the song "Que Onda Guero"), then plopped the hat back on his head under which he hid for the rest of the night.

Hide under a hat, speed through the songs, barely recognize the audience -- Bob Dylan did this once, at a time in his career he later said he was creatively lost and bored with himself, night after night. The same might be suspected of Beck Hansen, the 38-year-old chameleon whose shape-shifting body of work has successively crafted dark themes with disparate pop elements such as folk, blues, hip-hop, arena rock and ranchero.

At the Aragon however, he made the choice to destroy all expectations and flog his songs until there was blood. The four musicians backing him up played as if set on overkill: Loud, messy punk versions of songs including "Girl," "Loser" and "Timebomb" were pushed much further than their recorded counterparts. Faster, fused with a distorted bottom, and played with a profound urgency to race back to the hotel room to see who won the vice presidential debate, the songs were stripped of their whimsy and instead became gnarly and mean.

Considering the dark places his songs have gone these past few years, Beck as punk rocker at first seemed a natural fit. "Girl," sung from the perspective of a stalker, lost its sunny Beach Boys glare and, in this version, became raw and ugly. On "I Think I'm in Love," a love song overstocked with anxiety, the band blasted the chorus with maximum effort so the title sentiment now sounded like torture.

This didn't sustain a 90-minute, 21-song show. Despite two slower songs from his acoustic "Sea Change" album ("The Golden Age," "Lost Cause"), the fiercer treatment made the impeccably crafted songs stiffen, their former bounce and rhythmic interplay completely washed out.

Beck also toned down his theatrical instincts, an integral component of his past tours. The only break from routine was when his band abandoned their instruments to stand together wearing headset microphones and holding handheld electronic noise pads. The songs -- "Hell Yes" and "Black Tambourine" -- didn't benefit from the gimmick as the visual looked awkward, their tedium was apparent and Beck's headset suffered an electrical short.

The black-lit moods synced only with a few new songs from "Modern Guilt" (DGC), his eighth album. "Chemtrails," the night's highlight, benefited from the sobering approach, as its flinty bass and punishing drum fills enhanced Beck's ethereal, stoner vocals.

"So many people / where do they go?" Beck sang. They were still there and he was lucky.

Beck, with MGMT opening, performs again at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Aragon Ballroom. Tickets are $40; call (312) 559-1212.

Mark Guarino is a Chicago freelance writer and critic.

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Wow Mark, you simply seemed to miss the point. This is why people think Rock Critics are jerks. Welcome to the club.

How about going out onto the main floor once in a while. This concert was about ENERGY. The crowd that was there ATE IT UP. The constant up-driving tempo of this show is EXACTLY WHAT THE PEOPLE THERE WANTED. Beck, out of the gate, came out with 4-5 hard driving well known songs... at a feverish tempo, that the crowd... may I remind you PAYING CROWD (most like as you were probably NOT).... ate up every bit of it. And this crowd was a DIVERSE crowd of Beck fans... from the young (and I mean under 21), to the 40... dare I say 50+ in the audience. Perhaps you missed this dynamic of how well it was received while you were sitting somewhere up top, probably in a special section.... thinking about how you were not going to like the show.

well said, Bill. I don't think luck had anything to do with everyone staying. I paid 60 dollars to see him play songs. That's all he did and he did it very well. Coming from a long time beck fan, that show was great. This review really bashes Beck a good amount. I do not see why a very energized set, filled with 24 amazing songs, that clearly rubbed off into the crowd is a bad thing.I don't like this review, and not because entirely because I do not agree with it but because it seems like this show review was written by someone who is very negative.

What the hell show was this guy at?..I got a ticket for Friday's show because I thought Thursday's show was so awesome. The venue, the energy, and set-list, the sound (except the brief malfunction that sadly took a toll on Mark) all made this show one of best I've seen in awhile. Beck is a different guy, and every show I've been to has been quite different - never predictable. While we were dancing/singing along, I wasn't thinking about any 'dark places' or thinking anything was 'stripped to its whimsy'. Was anyone else?? The "all business" approach worked well for me and the others im my area. Too bad it didn't resonate well with Mark who needed some exchanges with the audience to make him feel like he was at a typical concert. I don't know why I read this review. I was really just looking for a nice pic of Beck and caught this bogus review by someone who obviously went in not looking to have a good time. Sorry you were the guy not having fun Thursday. Keep writing your BS, loser. No one cares.

Amen to Bill's comment. Energy is the operative word here. And I noticed the diversity of the crowd as well. Where I was, and I was pretty close to the front, I saw a lot of young people. And what demographic am I in, well, Beck and I are the same age. I have waited a long time to see him in concert and although it wasn't as theatric as previous tours, I wasn't in the least bit disappointed. When he broke out Novacane in the encore, I went absolutely beserk. Everyone around me was having a blast and were totally into the show in all its phases. If you still doubt how well the show was received after my comment and Bill's check this out.

I agree. It is almost as if the reviewer saw a different show than the one i saw in the same time and place!! To suggest that an excellent artist who just released one of the best albums of his career, is "lucky" to have fans show up is quite arrogant and does indeed make it seem like the reviewer was out of touch or recklessly predisposed toward the reviews disposition.

Actually, I agree with Jim (for once)... except that I thought the show was more like arena rock than punk. Disappointing. (I wrote a review as well, if anyone cares to read it.

I love beck and enjoy his ability to change from folksy troubadour to the funk man rapping in Spanish, but he lost touch with the true essence of his songs in the show I saw at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC also in October. He played the same set as this show and I just had to comment that although the review is very critical, the songs did not take on more character with the aimless energy; they actually lost character. "Girl" was atrocious as I could not hear a word he was singing and the monotonous down strokes of the punk guitar completely tore the fabric of the song apart. The songs from Modern Guilt were pedestrian and boring using predictable guitar chord patterns. I thought the best part of the show with the most clarity and purpose was when he took up the acoustic guitar and played a couple from Sea Change. Otherwise, the majority of the songs were muddled, rushed and way too distorted for my taste. Nobody is arguing that energy is a bad thing, but when it loses purpose and direction, the songs lose purpose and direction.

This was probably a very good show. even though i didn't see it, i know that Beck always does sets of song that range from mellow to hardcore. guano does not know how to write reviews since he probably rates so much music he just lost interest and gives crappy reviews to whoever, that's right i used whoever.
point is i've listned to alot of Beck's songs from his early demos to modern guilt and beck has not disappointed me yet.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on October 3, 2008 12:01 AM.

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