Live Review and Photos: Beck, May 24, 2012, Santa Barbara Bowl – Santa Barbara, CA

If it seems like a long time since we last heard from Beck, well, it has been. The eclectic songwriter made it known early in his set last Thursday in Santa Barbara that this was the beginning of his first tour in four years. And, possibly to commemorate the occasion or possibly for reasons unknown, the band spared no expense in recording the event, with multiple camera cranes, on-stage videographers, front-stage cameras that slid by like trains on a track, Jason Lee shooting stills both on stage and in the photo pit, and a fucking helicopter. Yes, there was a helicopter taking photos of the Beck show in Santa Barbara. Always tongue in cheek, Beck noted that the chopper reminded him of his youth in Los Angeles. Luckily, the set lived up to the recording equipment that was present, and will probably be a cool concert film if that is indeed what transpires from this.

After a pleasant and laid-back opening set from Devendra Barhart that mixed some familiar tunes and some Spanish tracks, Beck took the stage and immediately got the crowd into a frenzy with the opening slide guitar lick from “Loser,” his first major hit and still possibly his biggest. And, from both the music played to the look of Beck and his band, there is a certain timeless quality to the whole presentation. Beck and the majority of his band look as youthful as when they first appeared in the mid-nineties. And, even some of their older tracks (Odelay was amongst the most highly represented material) seemed as relevant and enjoyable as when they were first created nearly two decades earlier. In particular, “Jack-Ass” is still a perfect blend of the two sides of Beck, and “Where It’s At” got the biggest crowd response of the night.

But, as Beck’s career has shown, the singer is just as comfortable getting funky as he is in slowing thing down. And, what was remarkable about his performance is how he was able to seamlessly weave material from Sea Change, including a fantastic early set version of “The Golden Age,” into the show without seeming like it was dragging the rest of the material down in its sentiment. One reason for why Beck’s material seems so comfortable with each other might be the fact that his dancing days are behind them. As a performer, Beck rarely leaves is mic stand and almost always is playing guitar while performing. And sure we may miss the dancing Beck of old (though he still did bust out his slide-step for “Where It’s At,”) Beck’s humor, humility, and genuine warmth make up for any mobility he may have lost due to injury or age.

Plus, as has been seen this week across the internet, Beck’s son has more than filled the role of band dancer for his dad, as he could be seen freaking out on the side of the stage numerous times during the performance. Still, it would have been nice to see the crowd at the Santa Barbara Bowl show some of the same enthusiasm. Sure, they danced for the hits, but for songs from Beck’s more recent albums, the audible noise of fans having unrelated conversations was distracting. But, that couldn’t stop the masterful performance that was on stage, which was even more remarkable considering the fact that Beck has performed so infrequently in recent years. One thing is for certain is that fans should be thrilled that Beck is back on the road and we should collectively hope that a new album will be in the works.

Black Tambourine
Think I’m In Love
The Golden Age
Lost Cause
End of the Day
Sunday Sun
Soul of a Man
Paper Tiger
Modern Guilt
Soldier Jane
Guess I’m Doing Fine
Gamma Ray
Devil’s Haircut
Where It’s At
The New Pollution