Beck covered The Rolling Stones and Prince and took audience requests as he played to just 100 fans at a secret concert at London club The Social on Tuesday (June 30).
The audience was made up of competition winners from a contest organised by Faber, the publishers of Beck’s book Song Reader, as well as guests including Sonic Youth singer Thurston Moore.
The hour-long show saw Beck mainly play acoustically, although he also played a miniature Korg keyboard for three songs and an electric guitar on the closing ‘Loser’.
Wearing his usual fedora hat with a black jacket and paisley shirt, Beck had to make his way through the middle of the audience to get on stage. As he got to the microphone, he joked: “It’s a good thing I’m small so that I can make it through the crowd. That was a tight squeeze.” He added: “I feel like we all should have met in the park earlier so that we could have got to know each other. It’s a beautiful summer’s eve.”
Surveying the audience, Beck went on: “This feels like a flashmob. In America, flashing means exposing yourself. It means that here too? OK. Are we all streakers?” He then played opening song ‘The Golden Age’ from his 2002 album ‘Sea Change’.
After ‘The Golden Age’, Beck announced “All requests, all night.” Although meant in jest, a fan shouted out a request for ‘Rowboat’ from Beck’s obscure 1994 album ‘Stereopathetic Soulmanure’. Beck responded: “That’s a good choice, I haven’t played that for a while.” He went on: “I wrote this for Johnny Cash. I left it at his house, but he never picked it up.” However, after three attempts at the opening verse in a different key each time, he abandoned the song, admitting: “I don’t know that one anymore. There’s a point when you know all your songs, and then it just goes.” He instead played ‘Lost Cause’, also from ‘Sea Change’.
Following with ‘Blackbird Chain’ from last year’s album ‘Morning Phase’, Beck next played his version of The Korgis’ 1980 single ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’, which Beck covered for the soundtrack of Michel Gondry’s 2004 film Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, introducing it by saying: “This is a song that I don’t get to sing very much.”
Beck then played keyboard for the first time at the show, but struggled to find the right setting on his Korg, admitting: “I can’t really see up here, it’s so dark.” He added: “This song is beach surf music. At a basement in London,” playing ‘Gamma Ray’ from his 2008 album ‘Modern Guilt.’
There followed a section when Beck referred to Song Reader. Published in 2012, the book comprises of sheet music for new songs Beck wrote but didn’t record. An accompanying album was released in 2014, featuring versions of its songs by the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Jack White and Jarvis Cocker. Beck had played an evening of ‘Song Reader’ music at London’s Barbican on Monday as part of his artist friend Doug Aitken’s 30-night exhibition Station To Station at the venue.
Beck told the Social audience: “I was going to play some songs from Song Reader, but I don’t know them. Hey, I did it four years ago. The book is still available. It’s full of hits you never heard.” He then began reading from the book’s mock-adverts for imaginary compilation albums such as ‘Hymns For Him’, laughing uncontrollably when he tried reading out the fictitious song titles ‘Bury Me In My Cutoffs’ and ‘The Smell Of Pot Pourri Has Gone To Jeff’s Head’. He then returned to the gig proper, playing slide guitar on a cover of The Rolling Stones’ ballad ‘No Expectations’ from their 1968 album ‘Beggars Banquet’.
After ‘Hollow Log’ from his 1994 album ‘One Foot In The Grave’, Beck sang an a cappella version of its title track, accompanying himself solely on the harmonica. He then covered Prince’s 1985 single ‘Raspberry Beret’, having to read its lyrics from a song sheet from the second verse. He eventually abandoned the cover, saying: “I’m not doing the bridge, we’ll all get lost.”
Having played ‘Blue Moon’ from ‘Morning Phase’, Beck read the essay The Secret To Music Is Hygiene from Song Reader. He asked if there were any musicians in the audience and, when only one fan responded, he said: “This is for you, then. The rest of you can just ignore it.”
For the final song of the show, Beck played an electric guitar for the only time, performing ‘Loser’ with no introduction. At its conclusion, he thanked the audience, before walking back through the crowd at the end of the show.
Beck released his new non-album single ‘Dreams’ on June 15 but, as with his show at London’s Hyde Park for the Barclaycard Presents British Summer Time festival last month, he didn’t play the song at The Social. ‘Dreams’ was the second song played on Apple’s new streaming radio station Beats 1 by DJ Zane Lowe for the station’s launch yesterday. There is as yet no news on when an album will follow ‘Dreams’.
‘The Golden Age’
‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’
‘One Foot In The Grave’
‘The Secret To Music Is Hygiene’