Beck kept things simple at the launch of his 2008 North American tour at the Grand Sierra Theatre in Reno, Nevada, on Thursday night. No marionettes, no Flaming Lips, no flaming guitars or leaf-blowers, but just the full range and restlessness of his music and a minimum of special effects, with a packed set-list stretching from the early '90s and up to his new album, Modern Guilt.
Beck arrived onstage with blond hair down to his shoulders and slid right into the tense groove of "Devil's Haircut" as he and his four-piece band unleashed a quick succession of recent tunes: the funky, rumbling "Nausea" and a frantic "Timebomb." Things slowed down long enough for Beck to play several moments of raw, gutbucket slide guitar, leading into the opening of "Loser," the twangy post-modern blues rant that launched his career back in 1994.
Among the newest songs was "Gamma Ray," with its go-go beat and Beck's jittery lyrics on melting icecaps and "smokestack lightning out my window." Other tunes from the Danger Mouse-produced Modern Guilt were fun, scattered and reflective on his place in an uncertain world. "Chemtrails" was bathed under layers of psychedelic static and melody as Beck sang quietly: "So many people, where do they go?"
He dedicated 2005's "Que Onda Guero" to any "gueros, gueras and guerolitas" in the house. For "Hell Yes," Beck gathered his band up front with handheld electronic devices, but when one of the cables wasn't long enough to reach, he joked: "We have the technology. Someone go down to Sav-On for the right extension cord."
Visual effects were provided by a quartet of big movie lights and a video screen that flashed a series of abstract shapes, silhouettes and video footage: an ocean liner, barren trees, landscapes, bridges, the band in action, etc. Late in his 90-minute show, Beck was joined by support act Devandra Banhart, whose own opening set offered another diverse range of sounds, from big rock to cosmic folk and songs warm and tropical. Together, Beck and Banhart performed a playful reading of Bob Dylan's "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat."
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