Beck has always been a master of surprises

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Beck has always been a master of surprises

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Credit: Brett Schewitz

Beck began his career playing in cafes, conjuring obscure, surrealist lyrics in order to try to attract the attention of the indifferent audience in front of him. He's never really lost the knack.

Ostensibly, Beck’s performance at the Palais – his first in six years – was a return to these acoustic roots. He appeared awkward, even for Beck, up on stage alone and without his various rocking accoutrements and noted such, saying he didn’t “really know what to do” by himself.

The entire performance was a reminder that every facet of Beck’s persona is incredibly endearing; the baby-faced 52-year-old tackles lyrical themes and genre-bending performances that would be cringy for most artists, but not Beck. He creates serious artistic merit where it doesn’t really belong, and offers humour – so much humour – when you’re least expecting it.

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The concert started in the best possible way with Gena Rose Bruce, who struck an angelic presence alone on the stage in her flowing white, maiden dress, performing a set filled with melancholy and dark tempestuous riffs that were Springsteen-esque.

It set the tone for Beck’s performance, which was similarly captivating and emotionally reserved. Like a traditional folk musician, he spoke regularly and at length about each song, dropping insights into the sheer enormity of his career as he focused on a range of folk and alt-country tracks. It was obvious he rarely gets to play his slower numbers on theatre tours, usually armed with his huge backing band and range of experimental instruments, as the average Beck fan is of a more Odelay / Guero persuasion.

For example, his second track was his cover of Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime, from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and other than a brief reprieve – at direct request of the audience – with Gamma Ray, the set was gentle, encompassing, and structured around the contrast between Beck’s folk oeuvre, his sardonic lyrics, and the awkward humour that dominates his on-stage demeanour. Do yourself a favour and listen to his latest release, Thinking About You. Rarely is an artist that’s been performing for so long, have so much consistent quality to offer in each new single.

There are always surprises, even when Beck’s in his element, such as his performance of a ChatGPT song, conjured on the command of ‘write a Beck song’, that featured such sumptuous lines as ‘I’m a Beck’. For the most part though, it was an insight into how emotionally-powerful tracks like Blue Moon or Blackbird Chain are, performed in such a minimalist way in such a stunning venue.

Then, of course, came the encore – six tracks, no less, as the show entered its third hour and Monday night pushed past 11pm. He knew he had to energise the audience but I can’t imagine anyone was expecting the pure rambunctious thrill of One Foot In The Grave, Beck pulsating the harmonica as animated as we’ve ever seen him on stage, pushing through Loser, The Golden Age, and a full-throttle performance of Debra.

And then, just as soon as we were all in awe, we were ushered back to normality with his third cover of the night, a gentle swaying rendition of True Love Will Find You in the End and just like that, he was gone, but we were all no less transfixed.

Beck toying with his audience? Well, I guess that’s no surprise at all.

Check out the latest Beck releases, tickets and follow him across his social channels here.