Forest Hills Stadium, Queens, August 17 2019
“This is probably one of my favourite tours I’ve ever been on,” Beck tells Forest Hills Stadium as the New York stop of his ‘Night Running’ tour draws to a close. It’s not hard to see why – not only is his own set an eclectic excuse to party, but he’s joined by three other indie luminaries, all renowned for their own abilities to turn a simple gig into a euphoric night out in their own individual ways.
In fact, tonight’s show (August 17) feels like its own little indie disco. Openers Sunflower Bean make the bright Queens sunshine feel like the dazzle of a mirrorball soundtracked by the psych thrills of ‘I Was Home’ and ‘I Was A Fool’’s lush, emotional dream-pop. Frontwoman Julia Cumming serves as that one friend who’s always eager to get on it even if the dancefloor’s empty and the night’s only just been. “I’m from here, I know you can be loud!” she yells into the mic when she feels the noise from the audience isn’t quite up to New York standards. Later, during closer ‘Come For Me’, she lets out a long, low guttural scream that gives you chills even in the suffocating humidity and makes you long for a do-over so you can put as much energy into their set as the band does.
Austin’s Spoon offer a slightly more civilised next phase of the night. Their jerky indie-rock is less throwing pints in a provincial sticky-floored bar, more trying to chirpse by showing how intellectual you are. It’s been less than a month since the band released a greatest hits compilation so its fitting their set pulls from the best bits across a large chunk of their career – all of which hit the mark of good, smart fun. There’s the piano bounce of ‘The Way We Get By’ from 2002’s ‘Kill The Moonlight’ and the bright, driving jingle of ‘You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb’, or the shiny swagger of brand new song ‘No Bullets Spent’. Their time comes to a close with ‘Rent I Pay’, which sees frontman Britt Daniel barking defiantly over a nagging staccato riff and Jim Eno’s hefty drum thwacks, each thump reinforcing the fact Spoon have long been pros at making tunes to kick-start your Saturday night.
If the first two bands warm things up then Cage The Elephant set them ablaze – literally. From the second they appear from the wings there’s fire licking up from the white and red staircase that now sits in the middle of the stage, making Forest Hills feel like a particularly grandiose circle of hell. Ever a unique performer, frontman Matt Shultz prowls along in front of his bandmates, flipping between masks, hats, and layers of clothing until, by the very end, he’s crowdsurfing in a nude bodysuit and silky red gym shorts like a boxer celebrating a new title. Getting to that point is like going on a journey through the group’s history, skipping between the juddering rock’n’roll freakout of ‘Spiderhead’ through the gentle strut of ‘Ready To Let Go’ to penultimate song and slower, piano-laced singalong ‘Cigarette Daydreams’. By the time the dramatic end is reached, Shultz and his bandmates have shared a masterclass in showmanship and rock revelry.
There was always going to be one king of this indie disco, though, and that’s Beck. He opens things up with a classic in ‘Loser’ – an audacious move until you remember just how many hits he has – and there’s rarely a decline from that point onwards. ‘Up All Night’ is a neon-bright synth-pop jam, while ‘Girl’ is a shuffling, feel-good unifier complete with an interpolation of Kanye West’s ‘Jesus Walks’. New song ‘Saw Lightning’ comes sandwiched between ‘Wow’ and ‘Dreams’, heavier and harder-hitting than its recorded version, and ‘Devils Haircut’’s iconic spaghetti western riff rumbles round the open-air amphitheatre with fresh menace.
Between creating one epic party, Beck takes moments to reflect. “We gotta appreciate this time,” he says at one point, seemingly apropos of nothing. “Life is a fragile thing.” Later, between acoustic fragments of ‘Lost Cause’ and his cover of ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’, the reason for his contemplative mood becomes clear ass he shares that his son was recently in an accident. He’s fine, Beck says, but it put paid to him joining his dad in New York for this show – something he’d been looking forward to all year. As he dedicates his set to his son, the stadium is suddenly overwhelmed by a cacophony of stomps, cheers, and applause.
There’s no time to dwell on life’s darker sides, though, and an industrial-sized ‘E-Pro’ makes sure everyone’s minds are firmly on celebrating. A wave of giant white and silver balls sweep over the crowd from the back of the venue, a couple of strays forcing Beck to duck out of their way as he plays. After a quick break, he and his band return for an encore that feels less like a slick stadium spectacle and more like a scrappy late night set, played just for fun. Beginning and ending with ‘Where It’s At’, they fill the space between with a snippet of Chic’s ‘Good Times’, Elvis Costello’s ‘Pump It Up’ (sung by a returning Britt Daniel), and Cage The Elephant’s ‘Night Running’. Matt Shultz re-enters the stage for the latter, he and the night’s main man duetting along to the dubby lope with their arms around each other, singing face to face. When Beck forgets the lyrics they look on the verge of breaking into fits of laughter and a jazz reprise of the track only adds to the chaos. It’s a moment that brings the legendary musician’s earlier words back to mind, the fun he’s having on stage written all over his face. He might have been on many a tour since he released his debut album in 1993 but, with an arsenal of bonafide classics to dip into and a carpe diem attitude fuelling his fire, this could well be one of his best.
‘Up All Night’
‘Qué Onda Güero’
‘Go It Alone’
‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’
‘The New Pollution’
‘Where It’s At’
‘One Foot In The Grave’
‘Pump It Up’
‘Where It’s At’