There aren’t many acts that will encourage me to make a 350-mile round trip from the lightning-struck and flash-flooded industrial heart of England to its sun-kissed and gentrified south coast. Beck’s one of them. He doesn’t visit these shores often, and Bournemouth was as close to home as he got, so it was close enough. Anyway, it was a Bank Holiday and they have hotels down there.
Beck’s in Europe to give a live airing to some of the songs from his latest album, Colors. From the bouncy Charlie Brown piano chops of Dear Life, to the joyful, spectral, ambient pop of Wow and the pan pipe funk riffs of the title track, Colors could be the best Beck album since Odelay.
But before all that, there was Sparks. Sparks! The Mael brothers et al, 44 years on from This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us, playing their battily idiosyncratic brand of synth-pop, with falsetto and moustache still intact, after all this time. They’d won the crowd over with their energy, humour and stage presence, even before eternally deadpan, 72 year-old Ron dramatically stripped off his pink tie, threw it into the pit and threatened to get yet more informal. How could you not love them?
Luckily, Beck also knows how to put on a show. Primarily renowned for his song writing and musicianship, it’s easy to forget what a great performer Beck is. Once his seven-strong backing band had assembled over the two tier stage, silhouetted against a giant screen of rolling trippy visuals, his slight frame entered the arena to the clanging bassline of Devil’s Haircut.
The man was obviously out to enjoy himself in an infectious way. And, if at any point he got uncomfortable wearing his fedora and suit for a kinetic performance on a hot, muggy evening, he didn’t let it show. Nor did he resort to low-level strip tease like Sparks.
For two hours he was animated, enthusiastic, engaging and funny, speaking about his particular pleasure and pride at performing those blissful newest compositions of his.
“Just wanna stay up all night with you”
Plenty of older favourites made the set too – four or five from Guero, couple from Midnite Vultures, couple from Odelay, Blue Moon from Morning Phase, Loser, obviously. It’s testament to his spectacular touring band that they nailed everything they played from this famously eclectic back catalogue.
This was Beck’s only UK headlining show this year too. Why Bournemouth? I don’t know. Maybe it’s got something to do with Edgar Wright. He’s a Poole lad and Beck namechecked him before and during his solo performance of Debra, a track the director used in Baby Driver.
The solo spot – just the singer and an acoustic guitar – also took in Hank Williams’ Lovesick Blues and a version of Raspberry Beret. Stripping it back to basics brought an unfamiliar dimension to a song most of us grew up with, underlining the quality of Prince’s writing and making for a touching and celebratory tribute.
The band re-joined Beck for the show’s climax, taking in Blue Moon, Dreams, Girl and a singalong of the Mellow Gold slacker classic, Loser. After the languidly upbeat grunge/hip-hop of E-Pro, the encore took in the futuristic disco of Colors, extended introductions to the fantastic musicians up on stage and a long, long rendition of Where It’s At to finish a breathless, life-affirming and relentlessly excellent gig.
It was a new experience for me to leave a sweaty music venue and step straight onto a humid, moonlit seaside promenade, rather than a shitty city backstreet. It was late, but plenty of people were still around – mountain bikers; old and young couples walking arm in arm; families treating the kids to a late night on their holidays; teenagers gathered round fires on the sand and spilling out of beach huts. A hot day had given way to a warm, still evening and it was one of those days nobody wanted to end. As the man said:
“Just wanna stay up all night with you.”