Beck – Bournemouth International Centre – 28th May 2018

Photo by Jamie MacMillan

On one of only three performances in the UK this year, Beck rolled into Bournemouth and showcased the full range of his multi-coloured kaleidoscope of fun. This lucky audience can hardly believe their luck at the dream line-up on display, with the superb Sparks and Shame generating as much excitement and energy as some headliners. In short, it is like a mini summer carnival with one Beck Hansen as the ringmaster.

First up, Shame. As we have grown to expect, they look perfectly at home on the bigger stage – for Charlie Steen in particular, there doesn’t appear to be any upper limit to his ability to grab hold (figuratively) of an audience and shake the complacency out of them. ‘Concrete’, ‘The Lick’, ‘One Rizla’, ‘Gold Hole’. These are starting to feel like modern anthems, and this band are starting to feel like the ones who will define the modern age. For Shame, it is the case that while the audiences and stages are changing and increasing in size, their intensity and power remains the same. With bassist Josh Finerty leaping higher and higher, and Steen wading deep in the crowd, it feels ridiculous that this is only the opening act of the night. It surely won’t be long before they return to venues like this under their own steam.

After a rapid turnaround, an orchestral flourish introduces art-pop veterans Sparks to a room that is already packed to the rafters. Approaching 50 years in the business together, brothers Ron and Russell Mael are masters at this of course. With the stoic Ron on keyboards balanced with the more extravagant Russell on vocals, it is a set that touches on all eras of their heritage. With a casual disregard for traditional songwriting (or time signatures), it takes in classic new wave and synthpop sounds but, most of all, it is an unerringly fun performance. Climaxing, of course, with ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’ and ‘Amateur Hour’, they receive a fully deserved lengthy ovation. Afterwards, there are more than a few people in the audience wondering how even Beck will top it.

What follows puts those minds to rest. It is a dazzling, dizzying, quintessentially Beck-ish performance that takes in and chews up genres, mixing them into one big joyous mishmash of sound and colour. Bursting into life with a fuzzy, lo-fi guitar version of ‘Devils Haircut’, the night takes in a funky, soulful ‘Black Tambourine’ as well as a version of ‘Mixed Bizness’ that soars into the heavens, leaning more on its gospel elements live than on the recorded version. With a seven-piece band around him, Beck is able to twist and shape-shift on each new track – making a cohesive whole out of what could easily feel disjointed and disconnected. The hip-hop beats of ‘Que’ Onda Guero’ and ‘Wow’ slip easily into the pop-punk of ‘I’m So Free’, while ‘Think I’m In Love’ transcends its roots and transforms into Moroder-esque surging synths. And so on, for the entirety of a night that refuses to rest or relax.

“These songs were meant to be played live”, Beck states simply at one point, and the Colors era certainly suits the big stage. With a heavy Guero-slant too, it is a night for the big power pop numbers – the preceding (and obviously more muted) Morning Phase is largely ignored, despite its overwhelming critical success. That chameleonic approach has always been reminiscent of Prince, and with a non-more-Purple version of ‘Debra’ (dedicated to the watching Edgar Wright, with thanks for using it in Baby Driver) followed by a stunning cover of ‘Raspberry Beret’, Beck clearly knows it too. Unlike some similar artists, Beck has perfected the art of switching effortlessly between genres and moods in a live setting – always with a sure-footed ability to keep the party pumping all night long. By the time ‘Loser’ and a triumphant, closing ‘Where It’s At’ are rolled out, it is like a procession of perfectly-pitched sugar rushes to round off a superb evening that showcased one of music’s true original geniuses.

Jamie MacMillan

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