Beck: UIC Pavilion

By • Oct 15th, 2006 • Category: Concert Reviews

Beck’s Oct. 14 concert at the UIC Pavilion was proof it takes more than just great songs to put on a great show.

If anything, his fantastic catalogue is to blame for the night’s lackluster atmosphere. If he weren’t so damn popular he wouldn’t be stuck in such a sterile and lifeless venue. So, much like anyone headlining the 7,000-seat arena, he was fighting an uphill battle from the start.

But somehow, the anti-folk chameleon managed to make the already impersonal setting even less accommodating.

Toward the back of the stage, live puppeteers guided marionettes – that resembled Beck and his five-member band – through a to-the-T reenactment of each member’s movement over the course of the night. What could have been a fantastic sideshow turned into a focal point, since the puppets were broadcasted on a jumbo screen backdrop instead of the living, breathing band. If Beck was looking for away to distance himself further from his audience, he found it – keep his image off the projection. Whenever the camera did catch a glimpse of the actual artist instead of his two-foot-tall counterpart, the venue erupted with cheers.

Maybe it was because the novelty of the puppets wore off after a few tunes, or maybe it was because this was the only way for people beyond the 12th row to actually get a glimpse of the man they forked over $35 to see.

But it was, after all, a Beck concert. So despite the dreadful sound or aforementioned silly puppetry, he had to play Beck songs. And that guaranteed at least the music would be great.

Over the course of 90-minutes, he riffled through more than two-dozen tracks. Surprisingly, material from this month’s “The Information” didn’t dominate the set-list; songs from each album were shuffled together equally.

From the opening notes of “Loser” to the second encore’s closer, “E-Pro,” the 36-year-old mixed and matched a greatest hits set that included staples such as “Where It’s At,” “Lost Cause,” “Mixed Bizness” and “Golden Age.”

But for a greatest hits set, it lacked a lot of greatness. The song order jerked back and forth between grooving rockers like “Devil’s Haircut” to mellower selections like “Paper Tiger.” The start-and-stop pace prevented any real momentum, and audience members alternated from sitting to standing back to sitting again more times than a Catholic mass.

And all the would-be peripherals – ie. the booths to make-your-own T-shirt designs that mirror his recent album’s art concept, to the intermission meal that turned into a Beck version of “Stomp” – lost all their quaintness and ended up feeling like gimmicks.

In fact, a cover version of The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize” garnered the biggest cheers of the night, as if everyone in attendance was grasping at some familiarity.

Throughout though, Beck didn’t seem to care. His limited stage banter and the ramped pace in which he rattled of track after track made it feel like he had blocked out everyone in the obviously less-than-capacity-crowd at the UIC Pavilion. He was playing for himself, no matter who was or wasn’t there to hear.

And maybe that was the evening’s greatest accomplishment. Maybe the night did mirror his albums after all.

Beck has always been an artist that sounds like he just wants to be entertained. Each note in his catalogue sounds like it’s penned and recorded for an audience of one – himself. It’s part of his charm and his swagger. The minute he starts listening to critics or conventional wisdom, is the minute he looses his edge and becomes one of the aging hipsters that made up so much of the evening’s crowd.

So all the puppets, the bear costumes, the break-dancing multi-instrumentalist and his supporting cast which included Self frontman Matt Mahaffey weren’t really meant for the crowd. They were meant to amuse the one man everyone else paid to see.

Even the crowd was there to entertain Beck – not the other way around.

If that’s the case, and he needed us, we should be happy to oblige. Because there’s nothing worse than expecting to be entertained and being left short.

Next time karma should return the favor.

Daily Herald BEEP, Oct. 15, 2006

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