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Mischeif in his ways

Performing in L.A., Beck wryly salts reality by hanging out with a bunch of flakes.

June 29, 2006|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

BECK played with a string section Tuesday at the Wiltern LG -- but not the kind you might think. On his current tour, the mischievous musician and his band are joined on stage by a group of alter egos in the form of marionettes, each precisely costumed, detailed and deployed to correspond to one of the live players.

By planting a video camera right in front of their dollhouse of a stage, the production made them larger than life at the Wiltern -- it was the puppets, not the people, that were projected on the large video screen throughout the show, moving mouths, arms and legs in coordination with the real musicians.

One thing this showed is that Beck knows how to keep things interesting, bringing something new and entertaining to a tour that's essentially an in-betweener -- his new album isn't out until fall, and most of this show's tricks, such as the scene in which the band members sit down and have dinner on stage, are holdovers from his most recent tours.

The puppetry (created by L.A.-based Puppetown Productions, best-known for the Comedy Central show "Crank Yankers") also evoked Beck's early days in Los Angeles clubs, when he'd spike his sets with offbeat, performance-art elements.

This was more sophisticated, of course, and it was strange to periodically catch yourself watching the puppets on the screen and taking a liking to them as if they were actually the performers. If there was some higher commentary intended, it might have involved the ease with which image and reality can be blurred.

Or it might have been just for fun. It certainly stayed central to the concert (the first of two sold-out nights at the Wiltern), with new twists constantly popping up. The miniature stage at one point had its own little interior video screen, and then there was the Puppet Cam, attached to one of the little guys' heads and projecting his viewpoint as he roamed the stage.

During "Que Onda Guero," Beck wandered over and sang a duet with his puppet (which actually resembled John Fogerty during his Amish hairdo period), and the encore featured a film depicting the puppets' day in L.A., including a romp on the field at Dodger Stadium and a bite at Millie's in Silver Lake.

There was also a concert going on, if you wanted to focus there, a continuation of the straightforward, career-spanning retrospective that Beck has favored recently.

Perhaps spurred by the presence of the puppets, the singer-guitarist and his band seemed to put some extra ferocity into the music, emphasizing its percussive side and stringing songs together in festive, unbroken stretches.

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