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Thursday, 17 July 2014 16:52

Concert review: Beck covers all the bases on his return to St. Louis for a sold-out show at the Pageant, Wednesday, July 16

Concert review: Beck covers all the bases on his return to St. Louis for a sold-out show at the Pageant, Wednesday, July 16 facebook.com/Beck
Written by Matt Fernandes
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Last night, Beck Hansen made his long-awaited return to Mound City with a sold-out concert at the Pageant. Beck last played here on a tour supporting his album "Midnite Vultures" in January of 2000. Bill Clinton was still president, the iPod's debut was almost two years away and we had all somehow just survived Y2K (phew!)

Interest was high at the Pageant hours before the show with long lines forming in both directions along Delmar Boulevard.

Leading up to the show my only question was whether he would go with a spare acoustic set. After all, his new album, "Morning Phase," and much of his recent material has been heavy on the melancholy ballads and light on the hip-hop inspired showstoppers that made him famous during the '90s.

While his catalog of folk- and country-flavored ballads is impressive (the guy doesn't seem capable of releasing a lemon), as a Beck live first-timer, I wanted to see the rockers.

As Beck and his six-member backing band entered the stage and launched into that fuzzed out opening riff of "Devil's Haircut," any fears of this being a quiet show were allayed. The band showed great energy with Beck strutting and skipping across the stage and waving his hand in the air (yes, he waived it like he just didn't care.)

Beck kept the vibe electrified, drawing from his sizeable catalog of hits: The cowbell-fueled "Black Tambourine"; the bluesy "Soul of a Man"; "New Pollution," with its cartoonish intro and innovative mix of electronics, saxophone and found noise; and the great bass line and layered vocals of "Think I'm In Love."

One of Beck's diversions into his mellower side that was very welcome was "Lost Cause." This might be his most divine song, and Beck's performance of it captivated the crowd.

Beck chose to play his early mega-hit, "Loser," in mid-set. The crowd went ballistic, and the band kept them right there, following it with the funky and electric "Hell Yes." Beck was in rapper mode as he stalked back and forth on the stage. He had introduced the song by saying that it's OK to get "a little crazy" even though it was a Wednesday night.

Beck's new material was greeted well if not overly enthusiastically. Some were shocked when Beck forgot the lyrics to his new song, "Blackbird Chain" -- he literally sang, "Can't remember the lyrics" to the melody like a two-bit karaoke singer. It was a hilarious moment. He could have just sang random words and nobody would have probably noticed.

I'd say Beck's voice seems to have lowered in tone a bit, but when he launched into his ode to Prince and smooth R&B, "Debra," he nailed the high falsetto as if it he was still in his 20s.

Diverse instrumentation like harmonica, sitar, Hammond organ, cowbell and lots of synthesizers and samples kept the crowd on its toes. Beck's greatest strength has always been his ability to meld multiple genres effortlessly, many times within one song.

Watching Beck in 2014, one can also take a step back and contemplate two decades of Beck's influence in pop music with each passing song. In "Modern Guilt" I could hear Feist and Spoon in the piano line. "Get Real Paid" could have been a future Daft Punk track. The Casio noise of "Girl" wasn't common in 2005, but the tactic is deployed ad nauseam now.

The sound quality was uneven throughout the night, the band at times sounding like they were playing in a gymnasium. This didn't deter from the show, though, given the great material. Most crowd members were beside themselves, few of whom were likely lucky enough to have seen him in St. Louis before (he also played Cicero's basement in 1994 touring on "Mellow Gold.")

Beck clearly recognized this and played with the crowd throughout the night, injecting "St. Louis" into many of his lyrics.

During his encore, Beck got misty-eyed and recalled spending multiple summers here as a child. He even alluded to experiencing his first kiss here.

The band finished with a rousing version of "Where It's At" with an extended middle part when Beck visited with each bandmate and played several bars of classic songs that have influenced him over the years.

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