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Pop Music Review

A Glimpse Inside a Chameleon's Soul

October 26, 2000|NATALIE NICHOLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"We're doing some things we don't ever get to do, so I hope that's OK," Beck told an adoring crowd Tuesday at the Wilshire Theatre, on the first of two sold-out nights. Many weren't expecting the pop chameleon to offer such old-time fare as a Hank Williams tune, but in this intimate setting they willingly went wherever his eclectic oeuvre took them.

The show was billed as "acoustic," but Beck didn't stand alone with guitar and harmonica for 90 minutes. Instead, he used up to nine musicians who played stand-up bass, horns, various keyboards, etc., to re-create the trippy folk-rock of his 1998 album "Mutations."

When released, that music was widely read as the agonizing of an artist burned out on touring, and on Tuesday such tunes as "Cold Brains" reflected this isolation and regret. But the material transcended its original context, partly due to fresh, subtler arrangements. And Beck crooned from deep inside his soul, as if he had something more pressing than those old on-the-road blues.

Friendly and casual between numbers, he was slightly introverted when singing, eyes closed and face half-shadowed. Those who screamed for "Debra," the tongue-in-cheek slow-jam concert favorite associated with his better-known funk-impresario persona, seemed to miss the point. But Beck is enough of a showman (and, perhaps, not enough of a maverick after all) to give 'em what they wanted during an encore that also included selections from "Odelay."

For these songs he razzle-dazzled, but he withdrew again to close with 1994's "Forcefield," apparently reminding us that we may know his songs, but we don't really know him. Nevertheless, the performance was genuinely revealing, at least for as long as he felt like showing himself.

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