BECK at Ryerson Theatre, August 12. Tickets: $35. Attendance: 1,200. Rating: NNNN
johnny cash may be the man in Black, but Beck Hansen seems to be positioning himself as the Man in White -- the kinder, gentler, indie rock Johnny. He's not far off the mark. Beck ambled onstage Monday night, sans pyrotechnics or fanfare, clad in a Puritanesque hat-and-cape ensemble that he quickly shed in favour of simple, dazzlingly white threads.
Surrounded by a dizzying array of guitars and nifty instruments, and backed only occasionally by guitar genius Smokey Hormel, Beck gave the patchouli-scented crowd exactly what they wanted -- an epic 29-song set patched together from audience requests and seat-of-his-pants improvisation. He achieved a down-home, organic intimacy that belied the size and formality of the massive Ryerson Theatre.
Although the laid-back dude's got a new disc about to drop in a month, he only showcased three new, sweetly folkie songs. The rest of the two-plus hours was packed with material from Odelay and Mutations -- stripped-down renditions of Nobody's Fault But My Own and Ramshackle were downright gorgeous -- with nods to Mellow Gold and even the awesome One Foot In The Grave folk album. 'Swhat you get when you let your fans write your set.
He deftly sidestepped the freak-funk gaffe of Midnite Vultures, explaining, "You'd need four horn players, two DJs and several robots for that shit." Sure, and why bother when the album kinda blows?
Beck's extensive banter featured the same kind of lyrical brain blips that got people talking about him when Mellow Gold first dropped. Onstage, he's a twisted genius in action, spinning marathon anecdotes about his new red shoes and the neat-o "stools for feet," and taking gentle stabs at the "serious" crowd with quirky non sequiturs throughout his set.
The highlight was a crazy 10-minute interlude that saw Beck at the keyboard riffing on the fly over mournful chord progressions about Krazy Glue and "getting with you and your sister." Weird and wonderful. And his Tom Jones-style serenade to Roland (the drum machine) during Tropicalia had to be seen to be believed.
But he really needs an editor. The set was exhaustive and exhausting. Considering that Beck promised to return within the next couple of months to promote his record -- with the Flaming Lips as his backing band, no less -- all fans needed was an efficient hors d'oeuvre to whet their appetites.
Instead, they gorged themselves at the Man in White's smorgasbord.