by Chris Familton
It is always a pleasure to visit the ornate surroundings of Sydney’s State Theatre with its outlandish detailing and proclivity for gold and chandeliers. It creates a certain mood and atmosphere and definitely lends a sense of occasion to whichever band is gracing its stage. UK’s Dark Horses had the opening honours and, with quite a different sound to Beck, they played a set of dark and dramatic rock music that took in moody psychedelia, some minor krautrock influence on songs like Boxing Day and the occasional gothic overtone. It all worked pleasantly well but often felt too measured in both song and presentation. Singer Lisa Elle showed she possesses an undeniably strong voice, especially when she shifted gears from deadpan to displaying some fragility and emotion but those moments were few and far between.
The stage for Beck looked distinctly bare with only one keyboard and a few racks of guitar pedals and as the lanky one appeared he cut a solitary figure in leather jacket, wide hat and playing some back porch slide guitar, but then the audience’s ears latched onto that familiar set of notes that kickstarted his career, the curtains parted to reveal his full band and a lighting rig and we were treated to Loser, the first of many, many highlights.
The first half of the set saw a mixture of early tracks like One Foot in the Grave, his mid period hits such as Devil’s Haircut, Girl and Que’ Onda Guero and a great cover of Dylan’s Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat. The style pendulum swung wildly as one would expect with funk, soul, hip hop, new wave and rock all fighting for a place on the setlist yet Beck himself was a picture of slacker calm (gone are the dance moves), offering the occasional hilarious anecdote about playing Bondi Beach in the late 90s and discovering a lost 80s guitar solo in the bowels of the State Theatre before effortlessly dispatching another highlight from his now burgeoning back catalogue.
One of the best moments came with a retreat to some acoustic, countrified songs, particularly a trio from his excellent Sea Change album. The Golden Age had a gorgeous drifting quality and highlighted what an exceptional singer Beck is when he plays the traditional song card.
As we headed towards the two hour mark Beck and band upped the party vibe with a stellar run of songs – The New Pollution, Nausea, Gamma Ray and a show-stopping Where It’s At that brought the audience to their feet and toward the stage, able to scratch that dancing itch that had been bugging them in their seats for much of the night.
At roughly thirty songs the night was a real sonic survey of the man’s brilliant songwriting cache and showed that he has excelled at pretty much every stylistic corner he has explored. He seemed relaxed and enjoying the chance to stretch out, untethered from festival stage times and as a result it felt like one of those special shows that those in attendance will rave about to friends in years to come.
this review was first published on FasterLouder