The last time I saw Beck on stage in London was at the 12,500 capacity Wembley Arena in 2000, where he performed his glorious Prince pastiche ‘Debra’, had DJ Swamp use a crossfader with his teeth and was so overcome with emotion that he impaled himself on a bass guitar and had to be taken to hospital.
Flash forward over two decades and Beck has accomplished so much - including releasing Morning Phase, one of the best albums of the last decade. This week he was in town to play the Taylor Hawkins tribute but decided to throw in a theatre show at Lafayette, the Kings Cross gig complex owned by a member of Mumford & Sons. With a capacity of 600, it wasn't the smallest gig Beck has ever played in London (that honour goes to The Social for 150 people in 2015) but this was also palpably thrilling: the chance to see a songwriting megastar up close. Possibly for safety reasons, no bassist is present.
What becomes clear early on is Beck desires to only have a really good time. Songs are played beautifully on a succession of increasingly crappy rental guitars that even Ed Sheeran's guitar tech can't solve. Beck is in splendid form. He grumbles good-humouredly about his expensive London hotel, asks for requests, shouted out Edgar Wright and Lewis Capaldi who were both in the audience, needs help with the lyrics, drops in references to Tescos, Nando's and complains about the flimsy mouth organ piece. He compares his humdity-infused haircut "to Dumb And Dumber after they've been on the slide... crossed with Phil Spector in court."
He also and entertains queries from members of the crowd who don't understand his bone dry wit. "Chris Rock said if I had grown up on a different street, I would have been a standup. But I think I would be the kind of standup that people didn't like" ("Like Chris Rock" adds one wag from the audience). What is Beck’s gift is that, much like Loudon Wainwright, he can go from one line to the next plucking heart strings and making gags. He’ll tell a story about meeting Taylor Hawkins (whose irrepressible charm was even on display in the midst of the too-cool-for-school-Nineties).
For fans it was a glorious reminder of his storytelling abilities - including how Rush fans would seek out his house when he was writing Mellow Gold because he used the band’s 2112 single as an address sign.
There are some nice curios, including the cover he performed for Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime", then ‘Threshold’ a track he did for Scott Pilgrim.
Having road-tested certain stories in both LA and Austin he feels supremely confident, even when he’s describing himself as a ‘one man folk revival’ who hated “artists who sold too many records…and then I was an artist who sold too many records.” A uniquely gifted raconteur, his range is extraordinary- from the beat generation brilliance of Cynanide Breath Mint to the delicately strummed Heart Is A Drum, this was a night to savour - he even snuck in a stripped down take on 'Debra' and asked whether Hyundai's had made it across to London. A new track ‘Ramona’ bodes extremely well for whatever happens next. “We should do this more often” Beck said at the second encore. 600 voices agreed.
Beck Set List From Lafayette 6 September
The Golden Age
Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime (The Korgis cover)
Pay No Mind (Snoozer)
End of the Day
Cyanide Breath Mint
Nitemare Hippy Girl
Guess I'm Doing Fine
Heart Is a Drum
Bottle of Blues
I Am the Cosmos (Chris Bell cover)
Truckdrivin Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat)
Thinking About You
One Foot in the Grave
True Love Will Find You in the End (Daniel Johnston Cover)