The fashionable music of would-be renaissance man Beck Hansen is an unabashedly derivative consummation of all the many styles and sounds that he’s been immersed in since an early age by his artistic family, and each time he takes the stage, this unpredictable son of Echo Park tends to focus on one or another of those disparate styles.
At the first of two sold-out shows at the Wiltern on Saturday, Beck visited his tender, folky side — as also recently expressed on his 1998 “Mutations” (DGC/Bong Load) album — with a low-key, mostly hip-hop-free performance that, despite all its obvious musical references, was utterly without irony.
Backed by a group that included his usual concert band, as well as small string and horn sections, Beck and his oft-present acoustic guitar sang sad, yet hopeful, songs that were far more revealing lyrically than his more popular alternative-rock material.
But when strung together in a seriously-toned, nearly two-hour production, these personal and indulgent tunes — like the ho-hum faux-swing of “Tropicalia,” or the twangy country of “Rowboat,” from his 1994 release “Stereopathetic Soul Manure”(Flipside) — made for a less engaging time than the memorable and far more fun shows of his 1996 “Odelay” tour.
It was generally only during the few modern-rock-oriented numbers, like the flea market sounds of encore “Devil’s Haircut” or the “Austin Powers”-like silliness of “Deadweight” — from the “A Life Less Ordinary” soundtrack (London) — that either the crowd or Beck seemed fully energized.
The pretty “Girl Dreams,” from his 1994 “One Foot In the Grave” (K) album, was performed by Beck without the rest of the band and stood out as one of the show’s highlights.
Smart use by the band of pedal steel guitar, a pair of sitars (during the dour “Nobody’s Fault But My Own”), and a variety of wind instru-ments (sax, flute, trombone) added spice and tension to the otherwise leisurely proceedings, which, along with earlier shows in Hawaii and Las Vegas, mark the only U.S. shows dedicated to “Mutations.”