Alt-Rock Icons Join Forces For National Tour
MINNEAPOLIS — Musical supergroups are typically a disappointment. For every one success story (say Billy Bragg and Wilco), there’s an Asia or Damn Yankees or Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead (or Bob’s stint with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) that should give artists pause before hooking up.
Such follies were obviously on the mind of Beck and the Flaming Lips as they were frequently mentioned in press interviews prior to the duo’s three-month tour together in which the Lips are both opening the concerts and then performing with Beck.
Luckily, these alt-rock icons — both of whom have carved out successful careers by going their own way — didn’t let history deter them. At Thursday night’s concert at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis, the pairing officially launched their joint tour with a performance that was powerful, at times humorous and seemingly satisfying for audience and musicians alike.
Although it’s just the beginning of the collaboration, the reason why Beck and the Lips are a marvelous exception likely has something to do with the fact that individually, they’re at the peak of their powers. Both have released albums that rank among the finest of the year.
Or maybe it’s because they’re all veteran performers that have spent the better part of a month rehearsing for this extravaganza.
Beck didn’t seem a bit nervous when he strode onstage promptly at 9 p.m. with only a guitar and harmonica rack. Dressed in a conventional, dark suit, he delivered an intense rendering of the “Mutations” cut, “Cold Brains.”
Sitting on a stool and taking a couple of requests from the audience, he played a cluster of acoustic songs varnished with country soul like “Asshole,” “Rowboat” and Hank Williams’ “Lonesome Whistle.” His guitar and harp playing were crystalline throughout and his voice transformed from that familiar monotone into a pleading holler.
He needlessly apologized for his set’s “Unplugged”-like beginnings, blaming it on the fact that he’s getting older.
“I used to always make fun of these stools but they sure are comfortable,” he said.
Requests continued to pour in, to which Beck responded, “I’d love to rock with you all night but we got a show to do.”
Beck started the languid “The Golden Age” alone, but the Lips (augmented by a keyboardist and a Lips roadie playing drums) took the energy level up by joining Beck from behind a curtain midway through the song.
As a backup band, the Lips were a flexible and cohesive unit. (The only sign of opening-night jitters was bassist Michael Ivins’ occasional glances at a nearby music stand.) They dutifully followed where Beck led them, cutting a swath through his back catalogue. Leaping from album to album and adapting to the diverse musical terrain, the Lips could replicate the studio version — as they did on the majestic, Phil Specter-ish “Lonesome Tears” — or drastically remodel oldies like “Pay No Mind” and “New Pollution.” The group nailed the latter song’s jolting groove, which pulled Beck out of his shell to get down like James Brown.
Although the set list included a healthy portion of tracks from Beck’s newest disc, “Sea Change,” only “Lost Cause” was completely rearranged. This incarnation of the song was peppier and more pop-leaning than the album’s Nick Drake vibe.
Another new one, “Paper Tiger,” was drearily slow until the Lips’ drummer, looking like the Muppet’s Animal with his Prince Valiant hairstyle and bone-y appendages, anchored a noise-rock freakout during the tune’s midsection.
The dominance of singer-songwriter material from “Sea Change” kept Beck as the dominant force onstage. Helping shoulder some of that burden was Lips leader Wayne Coyne. Besides adding rhythm guitar, keyboards and assorted sound effects, Coyne’s main role was as cheerleader. When he wasn’t waving a pair of industrial-sized flashlights, Coyne was thrusting his hands in the air or inciting the crowd to cheer. Coyne might have been a bit of a ham, but Beck seemed to appreciate Coyne’s ceaseless support. At one point they clasped hands and started to waltz together, leaving the stage and continuing into the crowd. Their onstage banter was full of playful teasing.
Before diving into his ode to partying and the jet-set lifestyle — the futuristic and funky “Get Real Paid” — Beck said the Lips specifically requested he sing this song.
“We picked that one because you’d do the robot dance,” Coyne replied.
After singing through a microphone patched through a keyboard effect, which made his voice sound like a Transformer, Beck jumped on an amplifier and obliged.
More dancing ensued on “Tropacalia.” Beck pulled out all of his best Tom Jones moves, wiggling and sliding across the stage, while the band played a pulsating, lounge rhythm. Encores of “Devil’s Haircut” (with Beck wearing a Lips-ian glow-in-the-dark suit) and “Where It’s At” brought this party to its climax and spurred Beck to whip out his “Midnite Vultures”-era Bee Gees howl.
The Lips’ opening set was an experience unto itself. As much a performance piece and a multimedia spectacle as a rock show, the group is a three-ring circus.
As the band played, they were flanked on both sides of the stage by a dozen supporters dressed as leopards, zebras, dogs and other animals who danced and waved flashlights at the crowd. Behind the group were four large mirror balls and a 20-foot wide projector screen that continuously ran assorted clips of the Lips’ TV appearances, ghastly surgical procedures, jets exploding and portions of a Teletubbies’ episode.
This circus’ ringmaster was Coyne. In between singing, he bounded around, sometimes with a strobe light around his neck. Coyne’s personality on stage is that of a jolly elf, spreading good cheer to all. He would toss confetti onto the audience and at his bandmates, and spray them with a smoke machine.
Although Coyne’s voice was creaky at times, the group was musically formidable despite only being a core trio (they sometimes used preprogrammed samples to supply certain instrumental parts). Drawing material chiefly from their last two records, the Lips could be explosive, as they were on “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton” in which the group’s utility man, Steven Drozd, split his time between playing thunderously on the drums and then tinkering with a piano. They could also be more solemn, playing the cartoon-y “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Part 1” as if it was a dirge.
The highlight of their set was “Do You Realize.” The group’s disco balls earned whatever they cost by spinning and reflecting swirling lights throughout the theater. Coyne was ecstatic, shaking as he sang — nervous energy shooting through his body. Coyne’s enthusiasm bolstered the song’s central theme of carpe diem, which in the hands of someone less joyous, could have been sullied by the bleakness of the last line of the chorus, “Everyone you know someday will die.”
Both Beck’s and the Lips’ sets were concluded with a standing ovation from the crowd. At the end of the night, the applause coaxed the group back to the stage. Beck and company wrapped thier arms around each others’ shoulders and gave one final bow.
They deserved it. Not only for a great show, but for defying convention and succeeding by going their own way — both together and apart.
Beck/Flaming Lips Tour Dates:
- Oct. 18, Chicago
- Oct. 20, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- Oct. 21, Detroit
- Oct. 22, Indianapolis
- Oct. 24, Columbus, Ohio
- Oct. 25, Cleveland
- Oct. 26, Syracuse, N.Y.
- Oct. 28, Boston
- Oct. 30-31, New York
- Nov. 2, Acapulco, Mexico
- Nov. 12, Austin, Texas
- Nov. 13, Houston
- Nov. 14, Forth Worth, Texas
- Nov. 16, Lawrence, Kan.
- Nov. 18, Denver
- Nov. 19, Salt Lake City
- Nov. 21, Tempe, Ariz.
- Nov. 25, Universal City, Calif.
- Nov. 26-27, Oakland, Calif.
- Nov. 30, Seattle
- Dec. 2, Portland, Ore.
For More Info:
- Beck’s Official Web Site
- Flaming Lips’ Official Site
- Beck World (Unofficial Site)
- Beck Net (Unofficial)
- The Beck Site (Unofficial)
- Lisa’s Beck Page (Unofficial)
- Beck’s Diamond Bollocks (Unofficial)
Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.
©Copyright 2002 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.