NEW YORK (Billboard) - Beck is tired. That’s neither a critique of his recent musical output, nor of his current place in pop culture. Those remain respectably strong. No, Beck is just plain exhausted from the emotionally and physically taxing touring game he’s been playing for the last 15 years.
Long gone is the shaggy-haired funk-soul brother who enthusiastically commanded the stage with fancy footwork and freaky stage props (anyone recall the show-stopping leaf blower of the mid-‘90s?) These days, Beck Hansen is a shaggy-haired, 38-year-old father of two who seems to feel that life on the road has grown more grueling, and less gratifying.
In fact, Beck has threatened that this current jaunt around the globe supporting his 11th album, “Modern Guilt,” may be his last. If that’s true, then he chose to go out with. . . not quite a whimper, but certainly not the memorable bang one might expect from a man whose past tours have featured costumed performers and live marionette shows.
Beck’s subdued energy was palpable from the minute he and his four-piece band shuffled onto the sparsely decorated stage of the United Palace Theater on Friday (October 10) for the last of three sold-out New York City shows. Illuminated by vintage-looking film-studio floodlights, Beck rushed through his collection of crowd pleasers.
Though hits like “Devil’s Haircut,” “Loser” and “Nausea” had the audience on its feet, he performed with a demeanor that was disconnected at best. At worst, he seemed downright bored. Making eye contact with the audience seemed to take effort, and stage banter of any kind was simply out of the question. Beck barely spoke a word between songs, choosing instead to let the music do all the talking.
Fortunately, the songs had much to say. Like the artist himself, the concert was a stimulating clash of musical eras and influences. Fuzz-toned ‘60s-style rockers (“Gamma Ray,” “Chemtrails”) were followed by booty-shaking electro-rap jams (“Hell Yes,” “Novacane”). Upbeat pop-funk hybrids (“Where It’s At,” “Nicotine & Gravy”) made way for somber acoustic ballads (“The Golden Age,” “Lost Cause”). A surprise cover of Brian Eno’s ambient-rock masterpiece “Here Come the Warm Jets” even worked its way into the set.
The band performed each track flawlessly, raising its energy as the giant light curtain behind them sprung the life, its patterns growing more hypnotic with each song. And by the time Beck brought things to a climax with a funky encore that included anthems like “Mixed Bizness” and “E-Pro,” a full-on party had erupted in the audience. It was just unfortunate that the guests were having a lot more fun than the host.
Few artists can boast a body of work as eclectic, inimitable or influential. That, in itself, made what may be Beck’s final New York appearance worth the price of admission. But given his track record as one of pop’s most dynamic performers, you couldn’t help wishing he had a packed just a little more razzle-dazzle in his bag of tricks.