Live Report: Beck in Oakland

Kaiser Convention Center, Oakland, Calif., August 27, 1997

Beck's Wednesday night concert in the cavernous Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland, Calif., started with two turntables but no microphone: the first person onstage was a DJ spinning records of someone saying "Are you ready?" It was something of a cliche from an artist known for breaking boundaries, and the show only occasionally transcended such schmaltzy predictability. It took most of Beck's 12-song set to fix the tinny sound, and the all-ages crowd -- a general admission mob of 8,000, many too young to remember "Loser" -- vacillated between curiosity and ambivalence.

Beck made his reputation (and his first three albums) as a lo-fi hero, and his shtick-heavy performances apparently still surprise audiences expecting earnestness. He took the stage for the opening number, "Devil's Haircut," in a tight, white suit that made him look a bit like a bleached Austin Powers, an image reinforced by his calculated go-go dance moves and mock rock posturing and his strangely Twister-like checkerboard stage backdrop.

Beck has been on the road supporting "Odelay" for over a year, and the album dominated his set list almost completely. "I Want to Get With You" was a slow and soulful surprise that showcased Beck's surprising falsetto range, and ended with him hugging his guitarists, apparently satirically. He sent the band into the wings for a guitar-and-harmonica rendition of "Asshole," the standout track from his 1994 K Records release "One Foot in the Grave," but the song's spell was broken by his preoccupation with his jacket. Though it was amusing to see him take it on and off throughout the show, his music was far more affecting.

The most memorable moment of the evening came immediately afterward, when Beck set down his guitar and stepped to the front of the stage with nothing but a harmonica to perform "One Foot in the Grave" as a roadhouse blues.