Beck opened up his closing set on Saturday night with 1994 watershed hit “Loser,” the song that was his would-be one-hit wonder. That took some cojones, but when you have a catalog as maniacally diverse and innovative as his, it’s a moot point.
As the oppressive sun set and the Zilker air turned a tad more hospitable, Beck opened up a set that was as tight as the snare on a Meters record. From the word go, this set delivered a fiery garage-like intensity, save for the iPhoned-in middle electro interlude. And even then, that was done in a playfully coarse and distorted fashion.
His new backing band is seemingly made up of people so young that it’s possible they bought Odelay in the eighth grade. Each player dug into that almost 20 years of Beck and brought to life all the hidden metallic tones some of us may have never been hip to before. “Devil’s Haircut” got a garage-punk makeover, as did 1999’s “Mixed Bizzness.” Midnite Vultures was drained of its Prince Rogers Nelson horniness and replaced with a hot blooded howl of the Sonics. The vivid white LED backdrop added an air of minimalism that only recently has Beck begun to fully and masterfully wield.
For this writer, the best part of the evening was two-song set of Sea Change material. That album saw Beck mourning a failed marriage and temporarily owning a condo in Leonard Cohen Land, where the mood is uber-morose and each chord sounds like steely knives opening up vital veins. He jangled through the muted “Golden Age” and the resigned “Lost Cause” to the collected awe of the packed park. To resurrect the dead, he dove into Bob Dylan’s “Leopard-Skin Pill Box Hat” with a playful conviction, almost as a kiss-off to the woman who inspired all that vivid pain in the first place.
At 38 years old, Beck Hansen is finally becoming comfortable in his own skin as arguably his generation’s most significant artist, even if some of us may still want him to stay that same stoned 23-year-old folk-punker jamming out on a leaf blower at a coffeehouse. The best thing about Beck isn’t so much his past; it’s where he’s taking us in the here and now. -- Craig Hlavaty
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