Where’s my freaks at?” yelped Beck, pausing half an hour into his Las Vegas show to survey the darkness in which 1,100 fans sat at long, cafeteria-style tables. “We’re just tryin’ to adjust ourselves here,” he continued. “We’re not used to people sittin’ down. Usually Visigoths are gnawing on each other’s thighs out there. Blood is flowing. We have to hose ourselves down afterward.”
Had Visigoths indeed arrived, no one in the Tropicana’s soldout Tiffany Theater would have been surprised. Rumors about this much-anticipated show – a makeup date for a canceled January performance – had been running wild: Beck would do an all-Tropicália set, a heavy-metal set, a set to honor the boozy excesses of the Rat Pack or a set of all-new material from the album he’s currently working on.
In the end, he did none of these and a little of everything. Dressed in black save for the long white fringe dangling from his shirt sleeves, he swaggered onstage to “Novacane,” embellishing the song’s hip-hop stylings with hot hip swivels limber enough to spark squeals from women in the front row. He drawled through the indie pop of “Beercan,” shimmied to the warped samba of “Tropicalia” and danced the robot for the rump-pumping funk of “Hot-wax.” And on the somber “One Foot in the Grave,” he sang solo with his harmonica.
Beck’s backup band – augmented by a three-piece brass section – worked with its usual well-oiled ease, even pausing for a midset lounge-reggae jam of Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie.” The Eighties kitsch continued in the encore, when Beck changed into a pink jumpsuit for an evangelical rendition of the synth-boogie hit “Electric Avenue.”
“People are gonna look at all this fringe and say we’ve gone Vegas,” he announced at one point. “But we’re like this all the time.” That’s the beauty of Beck. He doesn’t need to emulate the Rat Pack. He can out-Vegas Vegas all by his little self.
This story is from the June 24th, 1999 issue of Rolling Stone.