One of the great moments in faux rock history was the Spinal Tap interlude that found the “band” second billed to a puppet show. Ever the ironist, Beck has created a startlingly similar scenario for himself at recent live shows — where he and his band are accompanied onstage by outsized marionettes that mimic their every move. It’s a cute visual trope — one that doesn’t get too old, thanks to the willingly broad mugging of the musicians and the deft string manipulation of the puppeteers — but that wouldn’t matter much if Beck and company didn’t lay down a soundtrack that commanded the lion’s share of aud attention.
The lengthy set was largely culled from “The Information,” the singer’s freshly released Interscope album, and “Guero,” discs that focus, respectively, on Beck’s innate artsy melancholy and his low-rider aspirations. The dichotomy made for a bracingly paced perf that didn’t linger down in the dumps nor overstay its welcome in the realm of partying hearty.
Darker, more atmospheric songs — like “Nausea” and a purposefully distorted rendition of “Devil’s Haircut” — were most engaging, in large part because they seemed to engage the frontman more than breezier offerings. He seemed particularly detached — even by post-modern standards — during a perfunctory run-through of “Loser,” but pulled off a psychic U-turn moments later by segueing into a wickedly enveloping “Black Tambourine.”
While material drawn from “The Information” was likely unfamiliar to much of the aud, intuitive takes on the groove-laden “Elevator Music” and the viscously psychedelic “Dark Star” (not a cover of the Grateful Dead classic, but not all that dissimilar in terms of spirit) kept interest sharply focused.
The late-set hootenanny — during which the band performs acoustically while seated around a fully set kitchen table — probably worked better on the drawing board than it did on the big stage. Not that the songs didn’t hold up — “One Foot in the Grave” was certainly potent enough — but forced joviality isn’t one of Beck’s strong suits.
Smarts, self-awareness and scattered silliness are all high on the Angeleno’s list of assets, however, and those components dominated the evening, leaving the impression that, even a dozen years into his career, Beck’s still looking to confound expectations as often as to meet them.