Showing up to Red Rocks almost 3 hours early usually guarantees a parking spot in the Upper North Lot and a great seat in the front 24 rows of the GA section. There have been no such guarantees this season. Parking attendants try to direct even the earliest of birds to the lower lots, hours before Upper North is full, and a long line of GA ticket-holders can be found protruding from every entrance hours before gates open. I understood why this was happening for Lana Del Ray, Fall Out Boy and Paramore, but I was surprised when we found ourselves in line at 5:00pm on a Friday night for Beck. Instead of eager teenagers speaking an abbreviated form of English, we were surrounded by middle-aged couples sipping wine and eating cheese. As frustrating as it was to be standing around so early, it was nice to know I wasn’t alone in my excitement to see Beck perform. It had been 11 years since he’d last been to Red Rocks, and 18 years since I’d last seen him play (at the first Tibetan Freedom Concert in Golden Gate Park), so this show was long overdue. Unlike recent shows like Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden, I was not standing in line to revisit the songs of my youth. I was standing in line because Morning Phase might be my favorite album this year. The companion-piece to Sea Change is by far the best collection of songs he has released since 2002. This was the show I had been looking forward to all summer. So as I stood there in anticipation, the frustration and impatience slipped away with each beer. The double rainbows framing the rocks in front of me made it a little more bearable as well. If you’re going to have to stand in line, there are much worse places to do so. And all the time and effort paid off when we finally got inside and locked down 22nd row seats for our whole party.
One problem with getting to Red Rocks so early, especially on a nice night, is that you tend to have a long time to drink. This was true on Friday night. The short tailgating session led to the long lines and another couple beers. The long lines led to the waiting for Jenny Lewis and another couple beers. Those beers led to cocktails. By the time our friends showed up and Jenny Lewis took the stage with her band, I was feeling great! When she opened her set with Rilo Kiley’s “Silver Lining”, I was feeling even better. But then something happened…Jenny kept playing, and we kept dancing and singing along, but as soon as she finished a song, I would forget what song it was. Usually I can’t help but keep a running setlist in my head, it’s part of the curse of writing so many reviews. So when details started to slip so early in the evening, I should have known I was in trouble. Instead of thinking on it, I grabbed another Dale’s from the tie-died beer vendor and sang along with the title track from Acid Tongue (that one I do remember!). Jenny performed a great set that mixed new, old and real old material for an audience who only gave her a lukewarm reception throughout her 40 minutes on stage. I would have liked to have seen her perform her full set at the Bluebird the night before, but her opening slot was a nice taste of what she had to offer. By the end of her set I was feeling too good to realize I was feeling too good.
I am a concert-going professional. I really am. There is no other way to be when you attend 80+ shows a year. Especially if you want to write about them. Just a few weeks ago I derided those who cannot maintain a level of control when they go to shows. But every once in awhile I slip. I slipped at Beck. I didn’t get sick. I didn’t knock anyone over. I didn’t get into a fight or black out. I just slipped. What do I mean by slipped? I mean that every time my drink was gone, another one was in my hand. I mean that the various substances that were flowing through the air found their way into my system. None of this was a bad thing…I wasn’t driving and I wasn’t out of control…but this type of behavior is hardly conducive to someone who likes to remember the many nuances of a live performance. That being said, let’s give this a shot. Here is what I remember about my first Beck show in 18 years…
Beck and his band took the stage just after 9:00pm. It was a large band. A professional band. Much different than the ragtag team he put together to play WorldBeat Center in San Diego in ’95 (which was one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen). The set opened with “Devil’s Haircut”, before going into the percussion-heavy “Black Tambourine“. The sold-out crowd were all on their feet trying (and failing) to keep in step with the all-too-funky dude on the stage. “Soul Of A Man” was next, throwing some dirty blues out early in the night. “Loser” seemed a little forced and lazy, as if he was just mouthing the words out of obligation, but following it up with “Beercan” was genius. The nonsensical lyrics felt all too familiar in my altered state of mind…
“Alcohol on my hands
I got plans
To ditch myself and get outside…
Now I’m hungry now I’m drunk
Now I’m running like a flaming pig
Hey hey hey
Only a handful of songs into the set and Beck had already proved himself to be a chameleon. The black pants, hat and jacket didn’t change, but the voice and moves that came from within were that of many personalities. The rapper, the bluesman, the introvert and the drunken fool. The DJ persona came next, as he brought beats correct with the Ghettochip Malfunction remix of “Hell Yes”. That’s about the point that my mind did its own malfunctioning and I had to rely on setlist.fm to fill in the blanks for me. It wasn’t until a few songs later when I came back down to Earth for the most mellow (and my favorite) part of the evening. “Blue Moon” kicked off a long run of tracks from Sea Change and Morning Phase. I wouldn’t have remembered exactly what songs were played without the help of others, but I do know that I danced with my wife through this amazing run of songs…and that it lasted about a half hour. I believe I continued to self-medicate during “Lost Cause” and “The Golden Age”, which probably wasn’t the smartest idea, but those damn songs just made me want to make bad decisions.
It was somewhere during that mellow run that Beck addressed the fact that he had been a stranger to the venue in Morrison for too long. “Last time we played here was so long ago that the Black Keys opened for us!“. It’s funny to think that the band from Akron has become a bigger ticket than Beck, but at least Colorado were receptive to them even in their formidable years, as Beck remembered that they got a standing ovation despite being the first band on the bill.
The last part of the main set consisted of more upbeat songs, so everyone could shake their asses a little after the mellow middle.”E-Pro” had the crowd “na na na na na na na“ing until the stage was cleared of personnel. And if I remember correctly, we hadn’t stopped by the time they came back on stage to cut the crime scene tape so we could all break some “Sexx Laws” together. The wanna-be Prince Midnite Vultures is the only Beck experiment that I cannot stand, but “Sexx Laws” and “Debra”, with the psychedelic swirls spinning in the background, made for a fun encore. But it wasn’t until “Where It’s At” that we were really rewarded for sticking around. The “two turntables and a microphone” song is a classic in its own right, but when spliced with “One Foot In the Grave” and an authentic cover of Micheal Jackson’s “Billie Jean” (“I don’t even know what ‘in the round’ is”), it might have surpassed Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long (All Night)” as the Red Rocks r&b dance jam of the season.
When it was all over I asked my friends to wait for the second encore. In my head, the show had just started and there was no way he was done yet. Of course, there was no second encore. Beck had been performing for almost 2 hours and had covered over 20 songs from across his entire 20+ year career. He had just performed an amazing set that spanned countless genres of music, but I still wanted more. It’s funny, now that I write this I realize that I remember so much more than I thought. This exercise has been good for me. Maybe I need to write about some of those other nights I slipped…see if I can make sense of those. Nah, probably not. I think I’ll just go lose myself in some Mellow Gold gibberish. It’s so much easier than trying to make sense of things…and it seems to have worked wonders for Beck Hansen. That loser just gave us the Red Rocks show of the season!
“You can’t write if you can’t relate
Trade the cash for the beef
For the body for the hate
And my time is a piece of wax
Falling’ on a termite
Who’s choking’ on the splinters”
Well said. Well done, Beck. Thanks for the memories…and lack thereof.
Love U Forever
Just One of the Guys
The Next Messiah
She’s Not Me
Soul of a Man
Qué Onda Güero
Think I’m in Love / I Feel Love
Heart Is a Drum
The Golden Age
The New Pollution
Where It’s At / Miss You / One Foot In The Grave / Billy Jean / Where It’s At