"I first played this song 20 years ago this year," Beck told the crowd at last night's concert at Marymoor Park while his five-piece band churned the groove of his biggest hit behind him. "I played it for the first time here in Seattle. I didn't have a band back then, just a boombox." The chorus kicked in and the entire crowd sang foolish Spanglish under pastel twilight: Soy un pierdador/I'm a loser baby/so why don't you kill me…
Twenty years ago you say, Beck? Feels like yesterday.
For a lot of people in the crowd, comprising largely 30- and 40-somethings wearing expensive jeans and drinking cheap beers, "Loser" was a foundational moment in 1994: an anthem for weird kids uncertain of any sort of future beyond underachievement. (First time I heard the song was blasting from radio behind the reception desk of Rieber Hall my first day at UCLA; a few months later I'd see His Beckness perform it with a boombox at a coffee shop in downtown LA, which I recognized even then as one of the coolest moments of my life.) What this means is our manchild has 20 years of material to chop up and dish out, so much living and learning and growing. Last night's set spanned the entirety, from the harmonica-driven whiteguy blues of "One Foot in the Grave" from Stereopathic Soulmanure to "Blue Moon" and other gorgeous swaths of Morning Phase, his latest.
Despite his hipster-Amish getup of black skinny pants, black jacket and wide-brimmed Lukas Haas hat, Beck looked no older than the rosy-cheeked kid who mumbled his way to megastardum decades ago, spinning and shimmying like a left-footed Michael Jackson. He played the new songs a little faster than Morning Phase's funereal pace and with much greater volume (though he complained about having to keep things turned down by request of Marymoor officials). Under a sky darkening from dusk to deep blue-black, these songs hung heavy and dramatic, assuming the meaningfulness of the singer's advancing age. Older ones—"Devil's Haircut," "Black Tambourine," "Novacaine," "Summer Girl"—were goofballish and blazingly energized rather than victory-lap inevitable. His band was the same as his Sea Change tour in 2002; the same that recorded his new album, polished enough to have very visible fun onstage and veer subtly from album versions.
"This is the most picturesque gig we've played on this tour," he told the crowd—again the music not stopping, Beck spinning lounge-singer style through the groove—"and my aunt tells me we used to spend summers up around here." So much connection to Seattle! His first guitarist, way back when, was none other than Chris Ballew of the Presidents of the USA.
Ninety minutes in, Beck closed with the na-na-na singalong of "Epro," the band melting into a guitar-feedback jam and crumbling into a heap center-stage. With the music wailing behind him, Beck stretched a ribbon of yellow crime scene tape across the front of the stage, then wrapped up the writhing pile of guitarists. A quick break, then everyone emerged for the encore. "I'm looking at all these white faces tonight, feeling like I'm gonna give a commencement speech," Beck said. The band launched into a pair of songs from Midnite Vultures, "Sexxx Laws" into "Debra," Beck ad-libbing come-ons to some unseen paramour with promises of a world of potpourri and apricot-cucumber exfoliating cream. Here my friend posited that beloved Sub Pop gag band Flight of the Conchords owes its entire existence to this song, and I think she's right.
Then the finale: "We're gonna do something foolish right now," Beck said, then brought out opener Jenny Lewis to duet on a louche, loose cover of Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Finally the crowd rushed the stage (when did Marymoor start seating the floor and tiering ticket prices?) and gave Beck the dance party he'd teased us for all night. Beck thanked the band for learning the song last minute. This was the first time he and Lewis played together on the tour. They closed the song and left the stage in a collective, squirming huddle, stretching out the silliness to the last possible moment.
Because of the tiered ticketing and floor seating, Jenny Lewis opened to a sea of empty chairs while early arrivals were cordoned off far from the stage. She seemed to struggle to connect during her opening set. But she did—when her band dropped their instruments and gathered five strong around a single mic to back her on "Acid Tongue," a sweetly sung moment with the evening sun lighting the sky.