The Scene: Usually when I go out to Red Rocks for a sold-out show I see a sea of single fingers in the air. Not true last Friday for Beck. Folks were sitting serenely in the parking lot in their camp chairs enjoying the tranquil Red Rocks afternoon, drinking craft beer. Red Rocks was about as green as I’d ever seen it in August and the contrast between the green of the foliage and the red of the rocks enhanced the beauty of the storied venue. People filed languidly down to the entrance hoping to get a good seat for the show. But the taciturn concertgoers belied the rowdiness that was about to take place.
Opener: Jenny Lewis. Jenny Lewis is a true renaissance woman. She is an actor, director, talented singer songwriter, and an amazing vocalist. She was the front woman for Indie band Rilo Kiley and the enigmatic female voice for Postal Service. Lewis came out and picked up her psychedelically painted guitar and jumped right into the Rilo Kiley song “Silver Lining” with an energy not felt on the original. After strumming a few songs on the guitar, Lewis put her axe down and played the lead singer, dancing around as the wind billowed in her flowing purple jacket. The band was solid—with a perfect balance of masculine and feminine—and they played a nice mix of Folk, Country, and Rock. After playing the single, “Just One of the Guys” off her recently released album The Voyager, Jenny picked up her guitar again and the band locked arms to sing harmonies into a single microphone on a stirring version of the song “Acid Tongue.” Changing the location of her acid trip from Dixie to Denver, she had the crowd in the palm of her hand.
Beck: As the sun went down with one last blustery gasp and Red Rocks filled to capacity, there was an electricity in the air despite the fact that the crowd was all beer and joints. But Beck and his band were a different story. They came out of the gate with a kick, opening with the rollicking classic “Devil’s Haircut,” and it was all energy and shenanigans as the band segued through the funky first quarter of their set with rockers like “Black Tambourine,” “Soul of a Man,” “Beercan,” along with Hip-Hop anthems like “Loser,” and a correct version of “Hell Yes.” The band was absolutely possessed with Beck slinging his guitar around and the rest of the guys rocketing around the stage like flying monkeys on amphetamines. As Beck did his electro glide across the stage my friend turned to me and said three words: “White James Brown.”
After a couple more classics like “Que Onda Guero” and “I Think I’m In Love,” which segued into the Donna Summer song “I Feel Love,” the band gave the audience a respite as Beck informed us that they were going to do “some quiet ones.” Beck eased into the dreamy, trippy section of his set with “Blue Moon,” a song off his new album Morning Phase. After sublime versions of “Blackbird Chain” and “Lost Cause,” Beck just played his harmonica for a while. When he finished he said, “I just wanted to hear my harmonica on the rocks.” Who wouldn’t? He then remembered the last time they played Denver when he said, “The Black Keys opened for us,” before remarking that his band was the same group of guys who had helped him to record Sea Change, and here I must remark that they were an amazing band, handling all of the booming bass lines, floating keyboard riffs, grinding guitar work, and the many samples that a Beck show entails. The drummer had a kit that would make Terry Bozzio proud. The guys were solid. During this more laid back part of the set the visual elements of the show really added to the dreamlike quality of the music, with rambling land and seascapes being projected on the screen. After the poignant “Heart is A Drum” and the cautiously optimistic “The Golden Age” Beck got a little weird with the symphonic psychedelia of “Wave.” As always, as if on cue, the wind blew down off the mountains.
After ending the “quiet ones” with the ethereal epic “Waking Light,” the crowd was getting a little antsy. Beck did not disappoint jumping right into “Girl” followed by the neo-sixties sound of “New Pollution.” But it was at the end of “E-Pro” when the shit hit the fan. As the band ended the song a mosh pit broke out onstage with the band flying into each other in a cacophony of feedback. The mosh pit devolved into a pile of mad musicians rolling around or dragging each other by the feet across the stage. All the while Beck was roping off the stage with crime scene tape. Amps were knocked over and guitar strings were broken, it was like The Who meets…well…The Who. It was so badass I didn’t even notice it was the end of the set. When the smoke finally cleared the bassist picked up a microphone and addressed the audience, asking us emphatically “Are we gonna break some laws tonight?” What else could it be? The band opened up the encore with a rowdy version of “Sexx Laws” and then came what for me was the highlight of the show: “Debra.” With Beck singing in his falsetto he transported us all to J.C Penny’s and beckoned us to take a ride in his Hyundai, which he rapped would fly over Denver with Willie Nelson smoking weed in the back. It was hilariously great and would have everyone talking and singing after the show…but it wasn’t over yet. Beck closed with “Where It’s At” but in a way that wasn’t cliché. As each band member was introduced they teased a song, from The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” It was probably the best band introduction I’ve ever seen. Three words: Bottle and Cans.
Stage Presence: A+
Set/Light Show: B