Live Review, 8/9/12: Beck Plays the Young-Looking Elder Statesman at Bimbo's

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Beck at Bimbo's last night.
Beck
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Bimbo's 365 Club

Better than: The crowds at Golden Gate Park this weekend

It's hard to believe Beck has been making music longer than most of our current crop of whippersnappers have been alive. Having taken a page from David Bowie's book on aging through your career gracefully, Beck has long since made the transition from wild-eyed boy-wonder to thoughtful-yet-touched troubadour. And the gray looks good on him. The question for tonight's intimate show at the elegant Bimbo's isn't whether the show will be great, but how Beck currently negotiates a frankly massive catalog with few missteps: What's on deck for this packed and chatty house of people who were probably in high school when "Loser" dropped -- Greatest hits? Deep cuts? Sea Change in its entirety?

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The show kicked off with a relative whisper, as a low-key rendition of "Black Tambourine" segued into a fairly staid take on "Minus." Like Ween, Beck takes a conventional rock lineup of keys, guitars, bass, and drums on the road to recreate several albums of eclectic weirdness. And tonight happens to be rather lite. This is not your dad's Beck. Or your son's. Wait...

False alarm. A tech came and turned on the "balls" switch atop bassist Justin Meldal-Johnson's speaker stack. Halfway through "Minus," some serious low-end swagger took the fore and you could finally feel your pants shake.

The band plowed through a set of greatest hits, trading out the novelty Beck established as his trademark early on with what later snuck up on his fans as a durable body of American song. And yet, nothing charmed more than those occasional moments of weirdness, the best of which may have been Meldal-Johnson manipulating the bass with a pair of maracas. It's impressive to see these guys transition from songs like "Modern Guilt" to "The Golden Age" so convincingly. Beck has always attempted to be an earnest chameleon, and he deserves credit for succeeding as often as he does.

As the set reached its elegiac ballad nadir, the mildly enthused crowd politely wished for something a little more, um ... slamming? Beck (sort of) obliged by ramping up the coda from "The Information" into a stately version of "Jackass." It was Beck culling from a wide enough swatch of his catalog -- but this was also Beck as a reflective band of gents, not piss and vinegar musical revolutionaries. As noted above, the singer and his band wear the age well, but there's something... not quite disappointing, but wistful, about the fact that the more bizarre side of Beck exists only on record now.

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Peaking with renditions of "Summer Girl" and "Where It's At," we were reminded that Beck's legacy is not weird noises or four tracks, nor was he the messiah of folk rap any more than he is this generation's Elvis Costello. The man wants to write good songs -- and at the end of the day that's the secret to his longevity.

Critic's Notebook

Overheard 1:
"Beck is my unicorn! You know: something very special and beautiful you only spot once in a while."

Major audience LULZ at Beck for forgetting the words to "Lost Cause" due to secondhand smoke ingestion ... and talking it out.

Beck's also taken a page from the Leonardo DeCaprio book of not looking a day over 25. Seriously.

Overheard 2: "Totally the nicest room in S.F. Well, after Great American."

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Bimbo's 365 Club

1025 Columbus, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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