On the first night of his seven-week North American tour, at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, Nevada, Beck was standing on an acre-size stage (the largest indoor stage in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records). "I thought, 'Shit, this goes on forever!'" he says. "If I had known, I would have really done something special."
Opening with the tense groove of "Devils Haircut," Beck and his four-piece band played a 23-song set that ranged from the gutbucket slide and Beat poetry of "Loser" through the spooky psych rock of his latest, the Danger Mouse-produced Modern Guilt. The band worked six new songs into the show, including "Gamma Ray," with its go-go beat and eco-terror lyrics, and the dreamy, Pink Floyd-esque "Chemtrails." "This new record is one of the easier ones to play live," Beck says. "There's not more going on than a beat, maybe a little keyboard here and there."
Out in the casino, gamblers line-danced to a country DJ, and at a bar across the room, a one-man band performed a startlingly decent rendition of "Purple Rain." "I didn't know we were playing in a casino--I try to avoid them," Beck says. "It's always weird when you're playing for people sitting at tables."
Compared to his last tour – which featured elaborate marionettes – the new show is relatively stripped-down. There's a quartet of giant movie lights and a video screen that flashes a series of abstract shapes and random footage. "Two days before the tour, we found these lights for 500 bucks," Beck says. "We were going to rent giant IBM mainframe computers from the Fifties as props, but apparently they wouldn't have survived."
If you have tickets (which go for $20 to $75), show up early for the killer openers: MGMT, Band of Horses and Spoon, depending on the date. In Reno, Beck was supported by cosmic folk rocker Devendra Banhart, who joined Beck for two songs: a playful take on Bob Dylan's "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" and Banhart's own "Hey Mama Wolf." "This is my son's favorite song ever," Beck said of Banhart's tune. "He makes me play it over and over and over."
Beck will be back on a giant stage for his sold-out September 20th gig at the 18,000-capacity Hollywood Bowl, complete with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra Strings conducted by his father, David Campbell. "The tour evolves," Beck says. "It's different week to week. Things happen onstage that you couldn't rehearse."
This story is from the September 18, 2008 issue of Rolling Stone.