Known as a musician whose recordings feature all manner of cross-genre sounds and multi-cultural references, Beck has been keeping his fans on their toes for more than 20 years now. But unlike many clever artistic chameleons, as he has sometimes been called, audiences seem to recognize that there’s warm blood flowing through the California native’s veins.
His headline appearance at the Newport Folk Festival a few days ago may have had something to do with the fact that it was a mostly folk/rock set that Beck opened with for his long sold out show at the State Theatre in Portland on Thursday night.
Playing acoustic guitar and with a harmonica strapped around his neck Bob Dylan-style, the gangly 43 year-old projected his remarkably big voice to the far corners. Beginning with the beautiful, countrified “Golden Age,” the black-suited singer played about an hour of his mostly introspective songs. Several were from his decade-old album “Sea Change” on which, he noted, his current band had played.
“Already Dead” had a nice Crosby, Stills & Nash feel to it while “Lost Cause,” perhaps Beck’s best song, went down well despite its sad refrain.
“Sunday Sun,” another gorgeous tune featured the first appearance of a starburst light show that really came into play after the intermission when Beck and company went fully electric.
“Loser,” his late-adolescent anthem, got the crowd moving. There followed a string of loud, tough rock, much of it flavored with hip-hop and suggestions of post-punk and grunge.
A late start, a long intermission and a newspaper deadline combined to preclude full coverage of the second set, but such tunes as “Modern Guilt” only added to the heat in the theatre as did the guitar work of featured soloist Smokey Hormel.
As the old saying goes, you pay your money and you make your choice. With his varied approach, there may be more than one Beck to chose from but they are all part of a musical force that made for a strong show Thursday night in Portland.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.