Beck performs outdoors at the LC Pavilion on Friday (Andy Downing photo)
In the midst of Beck’s outdoor concert at a crowded LC Pavilion Friday, the musician introduced one tune by saying he was ready “to party like it’s 1993.” He could have easily continued: “And 1996, and 2014, and 2002, and…”
For more than 90 minutes, the chameleon-esque performer served up staggeringly diverse selections culled from his two-plus decades in music, veering between hobo-folk (a raspy, harmonica-fueled “One Foot in the Grave”), tender balladry (the devastated “Golden Age,” which somehow felt weightless even as he crooned of carrying a heavy load) and soul-steeped numbers that wandered into Prince territory (“Debra,” a comically over-the-top turn the singer delivered in a sincere falsetto).
Indeed, one tossed-off line from “Loser” — “Things are going to change, I can feel it” — doubled as an apt descriptor of the shape-shifting performer on this evening (runner-up honors go to “Sissyneck’s” “My pants ain’t getting no bigger,” a lyric that stands as gospel truth for the still-reed-thin singer).
Beck, dressed like a turn-of-the-century preacher in a dark suit and a flat-brimmed hat, kicked off the set braying about the devil as his agile, six-piece band crafted a collage-like backdrop that flirted with funk, hip-hop, country and folk. “Novacane” briefly echoed its numbing title, building on a muted, throbbing bassline before exploding into fuzzy shards of guitar and synthesizer. The 8-bit “Hell Yes,” in turn, shuffled along on a chaotic, digitized beat that could have been constructed on an old-school Atari, and playfully incorporated a snippet of Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See.”
The frontman took similar musical detours on the distorted, country-flecked “Sissyneck,” folding in a verse of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that fared far better than his attempt at recreating the Moonwalk. “I was actually just walking backwards,” he said sheepishly.
While the rowdier numbers generated the loudest response from the near-capacity crowd, Beck was actually at his best when he slowed the pace. To that end, it was disappointing he chose to lump a handful of tunes from his excellent new album Morning Phase together, dispensing them to the audience in a condensed package near the set’s midpoint, like a dog’s vitamin tucked away in peanut butter. The best of these, “Waking Light,” found Beck singing atop twinkling piano in a clear, rich voice as a slow-burning guitar traced thick chem trails overhead.
Elsewhere, the singer channeled a '70s folkie on the warm, enveloping “Heart Is a Drum,” colored a shattered “Say Goodbye” with chilled banjos that conjured images of an Appalachian winter, and eased into a lush “Blue Moon” that sounded as though it were rising high over the California mountains. All were lovely, but here’s hoping for a return appearance where this material takes its rightful place center stage rather than serving as a pleasant diversion in a career-spanning greatest hits set.