The first sounds heard at Beck’s Gibson Amphitheater show were drums — lots of drums. Every member of his five-piece band walked onstage and either sat down behind or picked up a piece of percussion and added another layer to a polyrhythmic beat that turned into “Black Tambourine.”
That song — like many on “Guero” (Interscope), the California singer-songwriter’s latest album — sounded a trifle underbaked on album. But stretched out into a pulsing groove (and with lanky, horn-rimmed Ryan Faulkner throwing himself around in exuberant break-dance moves like the Happy Monday’s Bez), it blossomed and set the stage for the rest of Beck’s engrossing show.
Ramshackle and teetering on the edge of goofiness, it was a show performed with a crooked smile. It’s essentially sad music that looks for grace in rhythm; it yearns for solitude but finds pleasure in community. The mix of the mature Beck of “Sea Change” and “Mutations” with the sonic trickster of “Odelay” sounds less fussy and jerry-rigged than it does on album. The guitars are thick and funky over locked-in percussion. Only the revved-up party music of “Midnight Vultures” sounds out of place; “Debra” works in this context, and that’s because it has been turned into a folk ballad.
“Nobody’s Fault but My Own” still sounds lovely performed on harmonium and remains one of the most gorgeously disconsolate songs that Beck has written. But as he sings of being “cut loose” and “fading away,” the band, which had walked offstage at the start of the evening’s solo section, sauntered back and formed a circle, clapping their hands in rhythm, finally surrounding the singer. A few songs later, they’re seated at a dining room table set onstage, enjoying a meal as Beck plays. It’s a gag that threatens to grow old, until “Lost Cause,” when they use the tableware as percussion instruments, including the water glasses for drones. It’s an enthralling moment.
The set ends with Beck and the band leaving the stage as the audience sings the na-na, na-ye-na-na chorus to “E-Pro.” They kept singing long after the band had left, calling them back for an encore, turning the mocking sounds into something approaching the chant that ends “Hey Jude.”
Ric Ocasek produced Le Tigre’s most recent album, “This Island” (Universal), and his influence shows. While the trio is still unabashedly political, they’ve leavened the proselytizing with actual songs — a hyperactive frug of ESG, the B-52s, the Raincoats, the Adverts, Gang of Four, the Shangri-La and, yes, the Cars. It’s easier to be hectored for being the owner of a Y chromosome when Kathleen Hanna’s shredded yelp is singing the infectious “TKO.”