Last Thursday night, it seemed that every middle-aged Caucasian person in Santa Barbara came out to see ‘90s alt-rock god Beck at the Santa Barbara Bowl. The Los Angeles-born, Grammy Award-winning multi-instrumentalist got his start when he dropped out of the high school, moved to Europe, became a street musician and from there moved to New York City to be briefly involved with the anti-folk music scene. After his wallet shriveled up, he moved back to Los Angeles and played in hipster coffee shops where he got noticed by Bong Load Custom Records owner Tom Rothrock. Rothrock soon produced Beck’s most famed track, “Loser,” which SPIN magazine called the “definitive song of the ‘90s.”
Last week’s show was packed, the beer was flowing (not to me), and the people were ready to regain some of their youth, lost to children and routine lives. Devendra Banhart, hottie ex-boyfriend of the great Natalie Portman, opened up the show with some self-proclaimed “naturalismo” tunes. The acoustics of the stadium were absolutely perfect, highlighting his smooth voice and the rich tone of his guitar. Touted by some as the “21st century hippie freak,” I expected him to be barefoot, all “one with the world” and “feelin’” himself. Instead he was very relaxed in his probably vegan-leather oxfords, playing some familiar acoustic tracks and some sensual, laid-back Spanish tracks that I couldn’t understand. It didn’t even matter. I just lay back in my chair, captivated by the Venezuelan-American beauty.
Soon after, Beck emerged, jumping right into the set with the crowd favorite, “Loser.” He then played a slew of songs from his fifth studio album, “Odelay,” which won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 1997. I have no doubt that if that album were dropped now, it would have even more mainstream success because the Backstreet Boys aren’t dominating everything anymore.
Though it has been nearly a decade since he started, Beck’s sound, as well as his general presence, is still as youthful and relevant as it was when he first hit the scene. He may not be able to dance like superhuman Thom Yorke anymore, but he’s still got it!
He continued the set playing nearly half of his album “Sea Change,” which was inspired by the failure of his almost decade-long relationship to Leigh Limon. He played popular tracks like “The Golden Age,” “Paper Tiger,” “Lost Cause,” “End of the Day” and “Guess I’m Doing Fine.” There were many sentimental moments as he played those songs and continuously remarked how good it felt to be reunited and performing with his bandmates again for the first time since 2002. He was accompanied by keyboardist Roger Manning (session keyboardist for Angels & Airwaves/Air), bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen (M83 producer/Nine Inch Nails touring bassist), guitarist Smokey Hormel and drummer Joey Waronker (session drummer for Thom Yorke/Tegan & Sara/Smashing Pumpkins/Elliot Smith/R.E.M.).
During one of the songs, Beck and Smokey did an impromptu guitar solo and dedicated it to the likes of Def Leppard and the other ‘80s hair metal bands that have graced the Santa Barbara Bowl stage. I was so grateful to witness so much talent onstage all at once. All the while, a helicopter had been circling around the venue. Beck remarked that the helicopter reminded him of his childhood in L.A. with the police helicopters and their obnoxious searchlights. Word on the street is that with the helicopter and extravagant video-recording setup, the show will be released on video some time in the future.
Beck finished off his set with more songs off of his more recent albums, like “Guero” and “Modern Guilt.” The energy throughout the show was nothing compared to when he played “Where It’s At.” Everyone was on their feet, dancing. The dude in front of me was even fist-pumping. The highlight of the show was definitely Beck’s son, Cosimo, who is destined to be a star. He stole the show with his carefree, hardcore/punk-inspired dancing.
I wasn’t ready to go, but the show ended, and Beck and the band emerged once more for an encore playing “E-Pro.” Check out Beck’s new tracks with Jack White, released Monday: “I Just Started Hating Some People Today” and “Blue Randy.”