Brixton Academy – June 28th
“It’s been a hard week. I can give you a back rub, I can do some laundry, get you some banana scented oils. I don’t want this to end.”
It’s only four days since the country was sent into shock by Brexit. A dark mood hangs thickly over the city. There is tumult, there is anger, there is uncertainty. Without spreading it on too thickly, the country seems on the brink, but for two hours, Beck does his best to make you forget about all the turmoil going on outside.
It means there’s an almost tangible sense of relief and expectation – you can nearly touch it – from the crowd as he tears into ‘Devil’s Haircut’ which segues into ‘Black Tambourine’ before he slings out ‘Loser’. They want him to take them somewhere else, and he delivers; we are getting the hits tonight. There have been many Becks – from the blues singer to the post-modern pop polyglot – and tonight’s show is a joyride through his zig-zag career. It makes for a surreal, joyful form of escape – as well as a time machine through the idiosyncratic career of one of the most gifted and quixotic songwriters and performers of the last two decades.
Right from the start it’s clear this tonight we will be getting Beck the showman, picking and choosing from his varied box of tricks. This is a relentless high octane barrage of classics. “We got here when the vote came in,” he says to boos, “then we were at Pride and then came Glastonbury – it’s been a mixed business affair,” he says before launching, of course, into ‘Mixed Business’. We get ‘New Pollution’. We get the rarely played ‘Modern Guilt’. ‘I think I’m in love’ morphs and soars as Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’.
Yet for all these dizzying thrills, it’s when the tempo is lowered that is the most mesmerising. The dusty splendour and heartbreak of ‘Paper Tiger’ and ‘Lost Cause’ from Sea Change and four songs from Morning Phase. ‘Wave’ and ‘Blue Moon’ are particularly affecting. Uncluttered and intense they merely help to show the deeper sense of emotion and melancholy that can cut through his songs when he lets his guard down.
But the mood goes up again with ‘Girl’, ‘Sexx Laws’ and ‘Dreams’ the hit single that never was last summer. It ends with the slamming chorus of ‘E-Pro’. They return for the encore. Beck lounges in a chair and makes his promises about back rubs before introducing the brand. They cover Chic, Bowie, Kraftwerk and Prince. This is like the weirdest jukebox in the world. You feel they might start taking requests. Yet it’s all bookended by a ramshackle, jump up and down version of Where It’s At, and he even throws in a version of One Foot In The Grave. As the layers drop there’s a sense that Beck has been there for each person tonight – whichever Beck you needed to get you through this, he’s given it to you.