Mix 'n' match
POP Beck Brixton Academy, London
Saturday 17 May 1997
Even so, Odelay still gives the impression that he chucked everything into the mix and released only the distillation of hours of arsing about. A fine approach for a record, but hell on earth live. What would happen when this ramshackle popmobile drove on to the stage of the Brixton Academy?
A masked cowboy appears first and mixes up beats, giving the impression that it's going to be a hip-hop gig. Then the rest of the band arrives; all dressed in ties and black single breasted suits like the backing band of a 1960s soul revue. The groove gets twisted into the intro music for some lost ATV cop show, as the bass player starts doing the kind of robot dancing that every streetwise kid stopped doing 15 years ago. Then Beck leaps energetically on to the stage in a white suit and continues leaping like Paul Weller in The Jam. The Beck live experience is clearly as much a hand-me-down mongrel as on record, but a good looking mongrel all the same.
The difference, as Beck himself repeats in a rambling sermon, is that this band is "tight", "tight, tight". Unlikely noises and styles collide perfectly, weaving new textures apparently without reason, but with plenty of rhyme. Songs is too limited a word for what results, these grooves at their best, "Where it's at", "Devil's Haircut" and "Sissyneck", are perfectly formed contraptions where every oddball sound and idiotic stream- of-consciousness lyric contributes to the whole.
Beck is not content merely to play the music, however, he's a Barnum- style showman. He brandishes a whip and pulls the microphone stand so that it topples towards him, catching the microphone in one hand as it falls; he performs a soul pastiche that "brings it down" and would make R Kelly jealous; there's formation dancing from Beck and the two guitarists; a costume change into 17th-century frock coats; and one song is composed of Beck singing and playing harmonica to a beat clapped by the audience that continually teeters on the edge of disaster. Fortunately, the sheer exuberant grooviness of the band prevents the gig from toppling over into an evening of music hall entertainment.
Beck displays a deep knowledge of traditional and modern music styles combined with scant respect for any of them. He wrenches country rock and hip-hop out of their contexts and combines them into something vibrant and new. In this age of genre-splicing, sampling and microsecond attention spans, Beck's blend of styles seems to encapsulate our channel-hopping culture as a whole.
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