Live Shot

Phases and Stages


Westlake High School Fine Arts Center, August 22

No, my high school auditorium didn't look like a scaled down version of Bass Concert Hall, either. Nevertheless, it was Beck's white suit and black tie that made the evening. That and his schtick: strolling out stage left to a standing ovation from 1,000 vigilant Beck-site Internet trollers, little smile, little wave, and never pausing till he'd exited stage right. Then he went back the opposite way, behind the stage full of instruments, disappearing before emerging stage left again on his hands and knees: Steve Martin, circa 1977. From the moment he took his $28 stool center stage, scarecrow smile on a tousled blond Cabbage Patch face, to a gut-bucket version of "Nobody's Fault" more than two hours later, Beck's dinner theatre banter had a delighted following all thinking the same thing: "Wait'll ____ hears about this!" If Gen X's Dr. John kicked off his 1999 Midnight Vultures tour here in Austin with the best show of the itinerary -- as its sponsor claimed -- this exclusive performance was the gig to make said music-hall carousal seem like a sound check. Whether trotting out Mutations-like opener "Cold Brains," and later "Lazy Flies," and "Bottle of Blues," or sole Odelay standout "Jack-Ass," and any number of priceless covers -- Big Star's "Kangaroo," the lovely piano melancholy of the Zombies' "Beachwood Park," and a Fred "Mr." Rogers' re-imagining of Iggy Pop's "No Fun" -- L.A.'s wunderkind canyon dweller struck many wrong chords, but no wrong notes. "I'm sure you're wondering what I'm doing up here," he grinned early on. "I'm just doing whatever the fuck I want." Actually, he and his multi-instrumental accompanist Smokey Hormel were preparing material from Señor Hansen's forthcoming album for a fall tour backed by the Flaming Lips -- a stopover promised to the locals. In his broad, deceptively deep tenor, somewhere between Bono, Chris Cornell, and Coldplay, Beck played the serious singer-songwriter on new material he admitted had been formerly relegated to B-sides. "Lost Cause" was a strong newbie. Topping it all off were two improv piano pieces, one about waiting for (and missing) Austin's Congress Avenue bats, the other a hilarious, had-to-be-there mock Broadway musical based on Beck's SXSW debut, its punchline about being accosted afterward by one of the 20 audience members, a tall, mutton-chop mutant. "Who was that!?" cries the narrator 15 minutes in. Gibson Haynes, it turns out. "Thanks for coming to my half-assed show," waved Johnny Cash's SXSW showcase mate. "It was fun." You wild and crazy guy.

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