Red Hat Amphitheater, Raleigh
Wednesday, July 23, 2014

“Reach out into the night/It’s a little too hot/It’s a little too wet/Is everyone wet?”

Beck was approaching the one-hour mark of his 90-minute show in Raleigh, and the midsummer’s heat, humidity and humanity had congealed into a block, like a Yankee candle made from the essence of armpits and shampoo, beer and pot. (However, to paraphrase “Milk and Honey,” I could not smell VD at Red Hat Amphitheater.)

With a 20-year discography, Beck could arrange seemingly limitless permutations for an evening’s worth of songs, depending on the setting. Hip-hop? Soul? Orchestral? Pop? Lo-fi? As such, the night’s ever-changing moods bounced between a gospel tent, a dance party, a carnival and a coffee house.

The song selection bordered on predictable. That’s not a complaint, as Beck has a job to do—to entertain the majority of fans, not only those of us who would be happy hearing him sing the ingredients of breakfast cereal accompanied by bongo drums. Nevertheless, the concert demonstrated the depth and breadth of his artistry.

Beck began with “Devils Haircut,” which used two basses, the frequencies of which prompted my spleen and liver to trade places. He introduced the frenetic “Sexx Laws” with a reference to North Carolina’s turn toward political retrograde: “Raleigh, you have a lot of laws,” he said. “Who wants to defy the law?” (The answer: Everybody except the plainclothes policeman standing two people away from me.) Several thousand strong, the crowd subsequently moshed to “Loser” and “Where It’s At.” “Think I’m in Love” morphed into Donna Summer’s disco mainstay “I Feel Love,” from the summer of 1977.

Beck’s backing band, which played on both Morning Phase and Sea Change, should not be relegated to a footnote. They reminded me of James Brown’s Famous Flames. Adroit on drums, piano, mandola, banjo, Farfisa, guitars, bass, cello and samples, the band was tight yet double-jointed, the lubricant that allowed Beck’s vocals to glide over complex backbeats and twisting arrangements.

During quieter moments, Beck performed six songs—“Blackbird Chain,” “Waking Light,” “Heart is a Drum” “Wave,” “Say Goodbye” and “Blue Moon”—from his latest record, Morning Phase, plus “Lost Cause” from Sea Change. They are nothing short of lush psychedelia that might have been better-received in a concert hall rather than a monolith made of concrete and plastic. Had the folks around me not chatted through these numbers, they might have still heard their intricate architecture.

The night’s performance cemented for me a feeling that I’ve long had: With his gift for song structure, lyrical sophistication and a respect and knowledge of musical history, Beck is as close to the Beatles that my generation will ever have.