As above, so below
I’ve been to a lot of shows. And the older I get, the more I realize that I hate standing around, waiting for the bands to start, only to wish halfway through the set that I hadn’t bothered coming at all. Plus, I absolutely loathe lengthy encores. So, I guess you could say that when it comes to live music, I’m ready to be disappointed.
When Beck played at UC Davis’ Freeborn Hall last Wednesday, he did not disappoint me. In fact, it was the most entertained I’ve been at a show in a very long time. As I arrived with a friend, we approached the stage and noticed a peculiar thing: An exact replica of the very stage we were looking at, on the stage. It was a mini-stage. Same red curtains, same black stage lights and—hey!—exactly the same setup as on the actual, full-sized stage. What’s more, the mini-stage even had its very own mini-stage on it. Whoa. Just as we were wondering what Beck had in store for us, the lights came down, and “Loser” blasted through the PA. I searched the stage for lovable little Beck and instead saw a group of puppeteers dressed in black, manipulating a group of marionettes that looked remarkably like Beck and his band. They sang along to “Loser,” played their instruments and moved to the music on the mini-stage. The crowd roared.When the real band emerged for the next song, the band members were dressed exactly like the puppets. For the remainder of the night, the puppeteers spent their time mimicking everything the band did onstage as it happened. When the dancing guy in the band went from one end of the stage to another, so did his puppet double. When Beck changed guitars, his puppet changed guitars. When Beck played solo, and his band appeared to be having dinner behind him, the puppets did the same. Best of all, when the band came back out for its encore with one member dressed as a grizzly bear and another as a teddy bear, mini bears appeared on the puppets’ stage as well.
It was brilliant. And the music didn’t take a back seat to the onstage antics, either. Beck was his usual versatile self, playing favorites like “Devil’s Haircut,” “Where It’s At,” “Lost Cause” and “Guero” while mixing funky grooves, electronic rhythms, melodic guitars and even beatboxing. The sound was full and vibrant, with varied instrumental coloring from the likes of cowbell, tambourine, recorder and banjo. Bassist Justin Meldal-Johnson played this show as an official returning band member after leaving his side project, Ima Robot. Beck closed out with “E-Pro”—but not before a Davis-tailored video in which the puppets talked about how healthy everyone in Davis was, tried to steal bikes and sang along to “Don’t Cha” by the Pussycat Dolls.