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Beck, 'Midnite Vultures' Tour, Mesa Amphitheatre 22 April 2000

It was a beautiful afternoon, even an indoors person like me would have to admit that. At 4pm, it was still a little hot in the sun, but it was certainly shaping up to be one of those perfect spring evenings. Cargo-pantsed alterni-kids played hacky-sack on the soft grassy floor of the Amphitheatre, then shared picnic blankets and hot-dogs with their leather-skinned Arizona moms.

I had come early in the day to try to get permission to take a few photographs at the show. No luck there, the promoter Nigel at Evening Star wouldn't even speak to me *sigh*. As I was shooed away from the gate, I realised that bouncers look pretty much the same all over the world. Prickly-short hair covering the chubby folds where perhaps a neck had once been, and bellies hanging threateningly over too-tight jeans. Or perhaps I was just a little bitter at having to hand in my ancient no-zoom Pentax. Did I really look like paparazzi?

As the light started to fade, the opening act burst onto stage - literally. Cafe Tabuca, from Mexico. Did I say already how enamoured I have become of all things Mexican while staying in Arizona? They blended traditional folk music with totally experimental off-the-wall craziness. Their energy was incredible, and the singer tore around the stage like a Tasmanian Devil. Much as I enjoyed them, though, I couldn't help but look at my watch - the venue has a strict 10pm curfew, thanks to the local Mormon community. I wanted to see the Hipmeister....

Luckily, the stage crew were as aware of the time pressures as the crowd. After Cafe Tabuca's short but excellent set, there was a whirlwind of activity and Beck's band came onto the stage within minutes. What beautiful people the Beck retinue are. Even the chick operating the lightshow was gorgeous. They already had the groove movin' along nicely when The Man himself emerged.

I could SWEAR it was Mick Jagger, circa 1965. Oh, OK, I wasn't around then, but I've seen him on video. So, I suspect, has Beck. Not that I'm complaining, Mick was once King of Cool, and that swagger deserved a reprise.

"Rock & Roll" cried Beck to the already-entranced crowd, "It's... an odyssey!". The guy clearly has a sense of humour. His opening song 'Devil's Haircut' slowly merged into a parody of 'Billie Jean', with his excellent falsetto shown to great advantage. "I can do the boogaloo... what can YOU do?" he asked with a pout. How did a white boy get this much groove?

The perfect showman, Beck threw the crowd crumbs of local reference. Lyrics about a man called Phil... in town for the Inline Skating Convention... With his hot-tub in the Pressssidential Suite on the 13th floor of the Mesa.... Convention.... Centre... Reading pamphlets about how YOU can have internet access... NOW! Let me plug in my modem, baby.... 56..... K!!....

Beck then graciously handed over the stage to one of the other brilliant musicians behind his recordings, DJ Swamp. The scratching session that this guy did was AWESOME. He also threw in some musical cliches for laughs... 'Smoke on the Water', 'Louie, Louie'. Ah, such mastery of vinyl, it's a fine thing indeed.

Then the stage cleared, and on came another of the many faces of Beck - the Serious Musician. After a monologue about the tragic state of the current Music Industry, he took up an acoustic guitar and harmonica and played a beautiful Dylanesque version of 'Pay No Mind' from the 1994 album 'Mellow Gold'. He may keep the Music Press on their toes wondering what he'll be doing next, but this guy doesn't forget his roots. Every new genre he experiments with just gets added to the collage of all that he already is.

The Midnite Vultures tour isn't a concert, it's a stageshow. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. A disco ball the size of the one that nearly killed Boy George. Computer-controlled spinning lights and spangly Vegas costumes. It was big, brash and beautiful.

The finale was almost performance art. Costumed chaos, with grid-iron padding and robot-heads. A cacophany of feedback and brass. Then all went dark, and 'Police -Do Not Cross' tape was stretched across the stage. There was to be no encore. Clearly, God likes you to go to bed nice and early, or so the local Mormons would have us believe.

The tattooed nubiles in fluoro halternecks and feather-boaed gay boys reluctantly filed out of the Amphitheatre into the balmy night and I went in search of my camera. If only I could have taken a few shots, those lights were so pretty. But no, so you'll have to go to the official site for visual gratification. I can only tell you what I saw and it was, as all the critics say, genius.

April 2000

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