Who knows how such things are decided but that Beck should play his only UK headline show of the year in an otherwise atmosphere-free former swimming pool in a conference centre overlooking the golden sands of Bournemouth on a sultry May bank holiday is one of those rare but glorious twists of fate that make a watertight case for chaos theory.
What’s more, the most poly of pop polymaths took it upon himself not only to bring the party, but to curate the whole shebang – a faultlessly genial genie of a host who granted pretty much everything a near sell out audience of admirers could have wished for.
It’s 25 years since Beck first troubled the record-buying public – a full five years before life dealt the members of opening band Shame their first slap in the delivery suite. Boisterous and big mouthed their boyish bravado feels like a beery breath of fresh air in these straitened times.
Hurdling the usual support band sound obstacles with equal parts ire and fire they channel a ragbag of source material from The Fall to Wire, Joy Division, The Birthday Party, Bunnymen, even Sound Effects-era Jam. There’s the spectre of hip hop to one side and the rush of techno to the other, while singer Charlie’s needling stare and quizzical smirk are pure Johnny Rotten theatricals. Meanwhile, songs like One Rizla, The Lick and Concrete are take-over-the-world monstrous – calling cards for the next Oasis or Arctic Monkeys? More like blue touch papers. As the prophet told us: the truth is only known by gutter snipes.
In marked contrast, Ron and Russell Mael have stagecraft to spare. Savvy enough to spot a main chance and single minded enough to see it through, it’s 50 years since they started performing together, nearly 45 since they scored their biggest British hit – This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both Of Us – which, predictably, closes the show preceded by their other UK smash, The Number One Song in Heaven, and Euro-hit When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way.
What brings them to that point of high campery is arguably more interesting though – a clutch of highlights from Hippopotamus, last year’s top ten album that rebooted the artful Moroder beats of their pomp and delivered a shiny new disco anthem in What the Hell Is It This Time? the torch song dramatics of Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me) and the playfully gauche sprawl of Missionary Position. All of which provides a beautifully well-judged heterogeneous route to the main attraction, himself recently re-energised by a return to poppier, more direct ways on the album (his 13th) Colors. He duly serves up its three singles – Wow, Dreams and Up All Night – all of them vintage Beck, as are the title track, Dear Life and I’m So Free, but for all that this show is about road-proofing the new songs it’s also a no-filler hits package, a party blast from start to finish.
Announcing himself with a towering take on Devil’s Haircut, the pace is relentless driven by the drums of big-hitting beat merchant Chris Coleman and the party-starting bass runs of Dwayne Moore as Think I’m In Love is decorated by a slip into Donna Summer’s I Feel Love that showcases the vocals of backing trio The B-53s (featuring Grammy winning producer Jake Sinclair). By the time the set arrives at Midnite Vultures slowie Debra it’s clear anything can happen as Beck strums along on an acoustic guitar reworking the words in a dedication to his pal director Edgar Wright for using the song in the film Baby Driver. (Wright later took to social media in appreciation of both the accolade and Beck’s presence in his one-time local arena.)
It segues tidily into a fully engaged singalong of Raspberry Beret in memory of Prince and Beck’s take on Hank Williams’s Lovesick Blues before the mandolin and charango appear for the captivating, reflective Blue Moon.
And then it’s back to the bangers as Girl, Loser and E-Pro propel the set to its climactic second encore – a barnstorming reading of Where It’s At with extended band intros (Jellyfish mainstays Roger Manning and Jason Falkner complete the line up) and 12-bar excursions through Good Times, Miss You and Cars before Beck’s harmonica vamp on One Foot In the Grave (could he have known the 1990s BBC sitcom was partly filmed in Bournemouth?) somehow returns us to “two turntables and a microphone” and a delightfully odd full band line dance to send us into the wild night.
Words: Nick Churchill
Photos: Allan Jones
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