TVD Live: Beck at the State Theater, 6/19

PHOTOS: ORIANA BELAVIC | A story about a handjob in a downtown Cleveland mall put the entire Beck show into perspective.

Near the very end of his set, during a breakdown interlude of “Where It’s At,” Beck told the story. He relayed that earlier in the day he was in the Tower City Mall and saw a woman giving a gentleman a handjob under his gym shorts while a gospel band played nearby. Beck proclaimed that this very moment IS the essence of Cleveland. The crowd went fucking bananas.

I don’t know if this story was true, but the point is I want to believe it. Beck has that way about him; he’s the carnival barker. The traveling tent preacher.

I sincerely call him those things in the most complimentary way because everything he’s selling you is wrapped together in the most wonderful, joyous package and it’s impossible to not buy in. He’s a complete showman and the show he puts on is just as important as the substantial music he is performs. This is two sides of the coin coming together to provide a complete experience.

From his prancing and dancing, covering every available inch of real estate on stage, to the way he points at his band members with sly smile, he’s the show as much as the music. It’s impossible to take your eyes off him and not become invested into whatever he’s doing.

And before we get too far into this, let’s talk about those dance moves. Oh man, the dance moves. I just looked it up; the man is 43 years old and had a severe spinal injury just a few years ago. I just don’t know how he still does it. I’m 32 and can barely get out of bed some days, and he’s up there gliding around all smooth and effortlessly. The days of Beck doing the full splits are gone, but the dude can move. It’s complete hyperbole but he is some sort of modern James Brown on stage. Sorry, I’ll calm down now, I just got really excited about the show.

Showmanship isn’t the only reason to see Beck either, his is a band that’s tight. Like, elite studio musicians tight. During the set he mentioned that his backing band was the studio musicians from Sea Changes, so this was some serious business. All seemed to have a great chemistry and were well rehearsed. Just the stage layout, the venue, and the ability of the backing band, it felt like a something right out of a taping of Austin City Limits. Real musicians doing grown men shit. I know this sounds like basic stuff, but there’s a ton of bands and backing musicians out there that are really mediocre.

However, if the songs aren’t there, the showmanship and the technical prowess of the musicians go to shit. But crazy preacher Beck knew his audience well and packaged up a loaded set under those neat bows and flourishes.

Over the 90 minute performance, he chose songs from pretty much every record in his catalog (except the Beck-bemoaned/fan-beloved Midnite Vultures… BOO!) with a special emphasis on his hits. If you came to hear “Devil’s Haircut,” “Loser,” “New Pollution,” “Girl,” “E-Pro,” and “Where It’s At,” you were in luck. He played them all.

I’m a bit of a fanboy and wish he went a little deeper into some of his albums, but I can’t argue with someone giving the people what they want. However, I think the real gems of the set were found in the quieter moments of the show. The three songs represented from Sea Changes, “The Golden Age,” “Lost Cause,” and “Paper Tiger,” were all incredible and the venue’s acoustics accented the mellow moments far better than the full on electric work. In addition, the songs from his stellar new record, Morning Phase, all sounded bright, sharp, and crisp. It’s just a damn shame that audience members didn’t seem overly familiar with the new stuff. Go buy the record, people.

So here we were at the end of the night, sweaty and tired of trying to keep up with Beck’s flawless dance moves. Throats sore from singing along to every hit. After the last note of “Where It’s At” the entire band assembled at the center of stage, arms interlocked, and took one final bow.

You earned that bow, gentlemen. Preach on.

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