Beck and Jenny Lewis perform a show of mixed signals.
Lewis opened the Bayou Music Center show with an air of easy triumph, commanding the stage in her black satin suit with comfort and confidence. While the recently released The Voyager is generally a reflective, bittersweet album, Lewis brought nothing but joy to her live show.
The devastating and memorable line “Just another lady without a baby,” from the single “Just One of the Guys,” was a welcome moment of insincerity; Lewis’ wry smiles and perfect pitch betrayed the truth that she likely doesn’t give much of a fuck about babies or anyone who thinks she should have one.
Houston marked the final leg of Lewis’ tour with headliner Beck, which made her acoustic finale of “Acid Tongue” all the more heartfelt. Bathed in blue light, Lewis’ band linked arms and sang back up vocals to the tender song. Always a master of memorable songwriting, Lewis reminded us that “being lonely is a habit, like smoking or taking drugs,” filling the venue with a warm solace that soothed those so afflicted.
But where Lewis demonstrated effortless expertise in her set, Beck delivered one with frustrating inconsistency. Crowd favorite “Devil’s Haircut” was nothing short of appalling: a bloated mess of wheedling vocals, muffled guitars, and excessive tambourines. And while “Girl” delivered some acoustic improvement, it still suffered from capricious tempo and volume changes.
Beck, to his credit, is a spirited performer. It takes a special kind of gumption for a 44-year-old white dude to ask for a beat, start a revival, and generally dance around stage like an unabashed toddler (I swear I mean this as a good thing). During “Debra,” Beck didn’t flinch as he attempted to seduce us all into his Hyundai, dropping in R. Kelly lyrics for an extra helping of slow jamz. The irony was entertaining, to be sure.
When Beck stripped away some of the show’s excesses, his music could breathe. Songs like “Lost Cause” took the show to a gentler, naked place, and new track “Say Goodbye” exemplified the slow, emotional sounds of Beck’s latest release, Morning Phase. Naturally, no one gave much of a damn about the show’s quieter moments, preferring Beck’s rowdier material.
The show culminated in a half-hour encore of crowd favorites, including “Where It’s At,” “Loser,” and “E-Pro.” But Beck threatened to squander this good will by taking a solid 20 minutes from his set to introduce the members of his band and let them play snippets of Van Halen songs (really). The worst part? He knew what he was doing, shouting “We alienated everyone here!” No one minds a band fucking around and having a good time, but when you do it at the audience’s expense, it’s a mark of poor character. Maybe Beck has been in the game so long he doesn’t have to care anymore, but he still should anyway, for our sake.