Hard to say who showed the greater lack of enthusiasm: Beck, or his audience. Last night's show at The Pearl wasn't a dud or a waste of a night. But the general indifference and boredom by the headliner himself, likely inspiring a listless and equally bored crowd, made for a ho-hum concert, definitely the worst of the handful of Beck shows this reviewer has seen.
Anyone who caught Beck in his heyday -- certainly during 1996 and 1997, when he toured the holy hell out of Odelay, his most beloved studio album -- witnessed the first true showman of Generation X. That pizzazz was certainly on offer in 1999, when he played the Tropicana showroom, reversing the portended irony of the night and displaying a genuine alt-rock razzle-dazzle display. It didn't hurt that he had the tunes, or the backing band (that same Tropicana backing group accompanied Beck at The Pearl last night). The man could dominate a stage, eviscerating the potential novelty of his music and subversive shtick with a tireless delivery, never taking his audience for granted.
That man never surfaced last night. Granted, Beck's music has become decreasingly extroverted over the past decade, and by not hiring an extra guitar player for his band, he's forced to become a largely immobile axeman behind the mic. However, his set leaned most on the mid-1990s material, and Beck couldn't be bothered to match the flair and energy of those songs. In fact, sometimes the band as a whole failed to breathe much life info those numbers. Opener "Devil's Haircut," for instant, never sounded so flat. Breakout hit "Loser," which was next, sounded equally phoned-in. "Novacaine" followed, still barely there, and at this point, my hunch that this was a paycheck gig seemed to bear out right in front of my eyes (and ears).
Frankly, I don't need to hear those overplayed chestnuts any more than Beck needs to play ALL of them for the umpteenth time. Any notion that he had prepped a setlist for a potentially tourist-heavy crowd was dispelled by familiar, play-it-safe setlists from previous concerts. Why not more from 2006's The Information or 2008's Modern Guilt, albums he never played for Las Vegas? He also ignored 1998's Mutations, despite having the band from that record's tour in tow, as well as 1999's Midnight Vultures, maybe his most underrated and flamboyant release.
In fact, the only surprise of the night was the purported first-ever live airing of "Bad Blood," his contribution to the True Blood soundtrack. Otherwise, he had nothing new to offer in his first Vegas show since 2005's Vegoose, especially considering yesterday's announcement that his next "album" would consist of 20 compositions on sheet music, basically saying to his fans, hey, you make the music. I wouldn't make the time for Beck covers, let alone amateurs trying to channel Beck's personality and creative intuition and unique sonic palette.
Anyway, it took five songs before Beck seemed willing to engage, with 2008's "Soul of a Man" revealing some palpable pluck. He seemed to revel in "Hotwax," especially when ending the song on shrill, sarcastic 1980s riffery. He gorgeously ended a three-song suite from 2002's revered, downtrodden Sea Change (which compelled much of the show's patrons to talk amongst themselves) with "Sunday Sun," leading into an equally atmospheric and engrossing "Solider Jane." Jaunty throbber "Gamma Ray" rightfully inspired some movement (if not in the band itself). And even if "Where It's At" still sounds played-out, at least Beck and crew jammed it out at the end and changed the breakdown a little, the frontman himself even busting out a brief, crowd-pleasing "popping" dance. He didn't have to resuscitate old dance moves, mind you, but just revive some of the charisma and mojo that made him one of the most interesting musical figures of the last 20 years.
Which he (and his band) nearly did with an outstanding funk/disco reworking of 1993's "Mutherfuker" during the three-song encore. "I'm feeling a little bit of glitz," he said, patronizing the Vegas crowd. But, groaning banter aside, it was the only glimpse of Beck's former showstopper self we got to see last night, and the crowd responded appropriately, as if finally given a reason to cut loose. At $77 a head, that's the Beck the crowd came to see.