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Beck Breaks Hearts in Hoboken

Surprise show features surprise covers

February 18, 2003 12:00 AM ET

Beck knows Sea Change isn't exactly Valentine's Night music, but, during a surprise show at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey, he and his five-piece band played his breakup songs anyway.

"This one's for all the Valentines that have gone awry," said Beck, dressed like a homeless Bay City Roller with tattered plaid jacket and scarf, before strumming the opening chords of "Lost Cause." The show was a rehearsal for Beck's upcoming appearances on Saturday Night Live and Late Show With David Letterman across the Hudson River.

During the fifteen-song opening set, Beck and his band mates -- Jason Falkner (guitar), Justin Meldal-Johnsen (bass), Joey Waronker (drums) and Greg Kurstin (keyboards) -- stuck with the downbeat stuff from Sea Change ("Golden Age," "Doin' Fine," "End of the Day") and its sonic sister Mutations ("Cold Brains," "Dead Melodies," "Lazy Flies"). Fans packed in the tiny club occasionally shouted out for everything from Beck's "Asshole" to Weezer's "The Sweater Song" -- a request Beck dismissed by saying, "Uh, whatever."

When Beck mentioned that he had just finished a tour with the Flaming Lips, the crowd began cheering, prompting him to stray from the poorly hidden set list on the music stand in front of him. "I should do one of theirs," he said, before performing a surprisingly emotive solo rendition of "Do You Realize??" He also added someone else's broken-heart song to his set in the form of Hank Williams' "(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle."

Most in the 200-capacity club found out about the show through an email alert from beck.com, and the show sold out within an hour. Some yelled out that they remembered the last time Beck played the club, on his 1996 Odelay tour. As a tribute to the returning faithful, Beck and his mates broke into a thirty-second impromptu jam he called "Back in '96." "Back in '96," he sang as his mates battled through laughter to keep up. "Living free and looking good!"

For the encore, Beck put down his acoustic guitar down and picked up the tempo. Grabbing the mike and displaying his best break-dance moves, he belted out "Nicotine & Gravy" from his funk-mined Midnite Vultures. He then strutted around stage saying, "I believe it's getting warm in here," as an introduction to his improbable medley of Nelly's "Hot in Herre," the Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love" and Prince's "Erotic City." As he sang about bodacious asses, laughing boyfriends and creamy thighs, his smile widened. Guess he's doin' fine.

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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