“I’m a loser, baby / so why don’t you kill me?”
This refrain, from Beck’s 1993 hit “Loser,” was a memorable lyric from the artist’s concert last Friday at the Hollywood Palladium. Beck’s claim of being a “loser” may seem strange today — 24 years after writing this song as a homeless musician, he has now beaten Beyoncé for a Grammy, been covered by Johnny Cash and created Sea Change and Odelay, works that have been widely accepted as two of the greatest albums of all time. However, his claim on the title “loser” remains fitting, for Beck still uses his music to identify with outcasts through his eclectic lyrics and experimental style.
Reveling in musical eccentricity, Beck led a concert that was a mishmash of genres, including funk, hip-hop, rock and folk. However, all the songs exhibited his signature alternative flavor: Rock tracks like “Soul of a Man,” “E-Pro” and “Devil’s Haircut” stirred the audience into a frenzy with their squalling guitars and pounding drums, whereas the funky “Sexx Laws” had everyone dancing while the psychedelic “Black Tambourine” coaxed some audience members to light up a joint.
To balance out the high-octane evening (“but don’t calm down too much,” Beck said with a smile), the artist showcased his signature folk in the mesmerizing melodies of “Lost Cause.” Overall, it was a perfect mix of head-bangers and softer pieces that allowed audience members to breathe.
The artist’s freewheeling style resulted in a casual atmosphere, and Beck and his band improvised tributes to numerous artists, including David Bowie, Michael Jackson and Prince; they even merged their song “Where It’s At” with the Beatles classic “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
The Palladium’s structure allowed the audience to crowd around the stage, granting Beck opportunities to interact closely with his fans. He good-naturedly accepted requests ranging from “Paper Tiger” to the Brazilian-inspired tune “Tropicalia.” The band’s relaxed, joyful demeanor, as well as the palpable love of their fans, created a fun-filled atmosphere and an intimate connection between artist and audience.
The concert also solidified Beck’s reputation as an impeccable performer. His instrumental abilities were on full display: He showcased his riveting harmonica skills during the bluegrass-inspired “Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods” and jammed out on his guitar with the Jack White-co-written tune “Go It Alone.”
Though Beck’s vocal range is limited, his lyricism and the passionate vocals almost defy criticism; he poured his soul into songs like “Think I’m In Love” and “Blue Moon,” leaving little doubt about the deep connection he has to his music.
Beck’s roots in Hollywood resulted in a concert steeped in genuine commitment to the area. The Los Angeles-born artist paused to reminisce about how Hollywood shaped his artistic identity. He also pointed out how the studio where he recorded many songs was only three blocks away — although that was “back when Hollywood was not the place you should walk around,” the artist noted.
Not only did Beck perform “Qué Onda Guero,” a song about growing up in the multicultural East Los Angeles, but he also invited the choir of the nonprofit Urban Entertainment Institute to perform with him, led by Compton native and constant collaborator Fred Martin.
The group of young, primarily African American women performed with him for most of the show, singing the gospel song “Like a Ship (Without a Sail)” in the “stand-up-in-church-and-cry-Hallelujah” spirit as the smiling audience clapped along.
It was the night’s most powerful performance; it portrayed a message of hope and perseverance that Beck noted was especially “appropriate for these times.” Throughout the night, the artist continued to push a positive atmosphere, crying “If you love your life, say yeah!” during his Chance the Rapper-inspired song “Wow.”
At the end of the night, when Beck shouted “I’ve found some friends tonight,” the sentiment rang true. He and his band had turned out a brilliant performance, entertaining everyone with their stellar music and most importantly, connecting deeply with their fans and the community at large.