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Beck Previews ACL Fest at ACL Taping

Yelling out for ‘Country Down’ instead of ‘Where It’s At’?

By Raoul Hernandez, 2:00PM, Mon. Apr. 28

Beck taping ‘Austin City Limits’ 4.27.14
Beck taping ‘Austin City Limits’ 4.27.14
photo by Scott Newton/Courtesy of KLRU-TV

“[I] figure we’ll do some of the quiet stuff now – get it out of the way,” apologized Beck after having commingled the master class songcraft of his two best LPs, February’s Morning Phase and 2002 precursor Sea Change. “Blue Moon” rose far too bompy, but little else about Austin City Limits’ second taping of its 40th season Sunday night waned.

Such is the natural order for micro bands and legacy acts alike: touring in service of fresh material. Problem remains, throngs mostly want to experience freak-out staples – the hits. After three decades of performing, the 43-year-old Southern Californian courts an audience well into middle age that fervently wants to cut loose.

Inside a three-tier-brimming ACL Live at the Moody Theater last night, from the first song (“Devil’s Haircut”) to the last (nine-minute house burner “Where It’s At”), both halves of the whole did just that. Beck rocked the flock. And yet at the soft, sometimes wounded and even cruel heart of the nearly two-hour show boomed swooning introspection.

Backed by a quintet featuring a trio of keyboards as well as a three-guitar formation, the slight, Scandinavian model lookalike, wearing a devilishly red shirt under all black – leather jacket, jeans, and a Dylan hat (brim up, Zimmy, brim down, Neil Young) – muscled up first: “Devil’s Haircut,” Guero’s “Black Tambourine,” and “Think I’m In Love,” which segued into a pitch perfect recreation of ground zero for disco, Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” After working out all the sound kinks and untangling wires (“I haven’t gone wireless,” quipped the bandleader), it came time to get down to the real business of the evening.

“Now that we’ve got ourselves worked up to a pseudo frenzy, we’re gonna take it way down,” warned Beck.

Beginning with Sea Change opener “Golden Age,” a warm, enveloping evocation of what its author has sited as the sonic inspiration for Morning Phase – L.A.’s Laurel Canyon scene of the Seventies (CSNY, Joni Mitchell), a soundtrack his father David Campbell helped template with genius string arrangements – the singer’s deep intonation brought a giddy hush to the proceedings. New triptych “Blackbird Chain,” “Don’t Let It Go,” and “Country Down” fairly hypnotized the hall, the middle tune begun a cappela with just Beck on an acoustic guitar, and the latter hard in lyric and voice, but cushioned by singer-songwriter intimacy.

Only “Blue Moon” broke the spell somewhat, but newbies “Say Goodbye” and “Waking Light” quickly reinstated the blue mood. That hue finally washed away with “Soul of a Man,” revving initially like low-rider bass rattling your windows at 3am and crescendoing into a Zeppelin-like stomp akin to the second coming of Jack White and his Raconteurs. “Loser” then tapped serious delirium from both band and audience, and a nearly heavy metal version of “E-Pro” left Beck and his frontline playing dead onstage before literally crawling off.

The encore brought redos zapping all momentum, but hearing “Golden Age” and “Blackbird Chain” again couldn’t be discounted. (“Are these better?” wondered the singer.) Wrapping himself in wires during epic ender “Where It’s At,” Beck whet everyone’s appetite for his two weekends at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in October.

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