The last time Beck played a Las Vegas music festival, I walked out.
Closing out the first night of the first Vegoose, on October 29, 2005, the alt-rock icon infused his set with … a Boy Scouts theme. He wore the uniform, set up a tent onstage and sent out repeated, rambling messages about preparedness and the like. It felt lame, lacked musical momentum and ultimately sent me to my car early, wondering what had become of the dynamic live performer I’d witnessed previously.
The Beck I watched Saturday night at Life Is Beautiful wasn’t quite that, either, but he was good enough to keep me from leaving.
This time, he played without extra adornment, constructing a festival-smart setlist loaded with favorites, especially heavy on material from beloved 1996 album Odelay (“Devil’s Haircut,” “Hotwax,” “Where It’s At,” “Sissyneck”). The transition from his band-less, voice-and-harmonica-only “One Foot in the Grave” into a full version of “Loser” made for a moment, as the latter’s familiar guitar intro sent a ripple through the large crowd. And his cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” spliced in the middle of “Sissyneck,” felt like a neat just-for-Vegas inclusion (see: Michael Jackson One’s LIB set time later today)—until I got home and read that he’s been playing it all year.
Beck sang well, danced some and commanded the stage like a pro, but he lacked the can’t-tear-your-eyes-off-him presence for which he was once famous. Still, I’m glad I saw him, if only to push the stain of his Vegoose set further from my mind.
“One Foot in the Grave”
“Qué Onda Guero”
“Think I’m in Love”
“Fourteen Rivers, Fourteen Floods”
“Sissyneck” -> “Billie Jean” -> “Sissyneck”
“Where It’s At”