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Beck's Toronto show


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I didn't make it, but heard it was a good show. Here's the setlist and a Globe review for those interested:

Beck (solo acoustic)

08.12.02 Ryerson Theatre, Toronto



Bottle Of Blues

Your Cheatin Heart (Hank Williams cover)

Beautiful Way

Nobody's Fault

No Expectations (Rolling Stones cover)

The Golden Age

Cancelled Check

It's All In Your Mind

We Live Again


Lazy Flies


Ramshackle (one verse)

Nitemare Hippie Girl

Hollow Log

Debra (and Sally)

One Foot in the Grave

Cypress Grove (Skip James cover)

He's a Mighty Good Leader

Lost Cause

John Hardy (Leadbelly cover)

Already Dead

Round the Bend

Sunday Sun


Cold Brains (Frigid Brian)

Sunday Morning (Velvet Underground)


Sleepless Nights (Everly Brothers cover)


Pushing all the right buttons


Beck loves buttons. Buttons on drum machines, buttons on guitars, buttons on organs. Beck fiddled compulsively with all of them throughout his Monday night appearance at Toronto's Ryerson Theatre.

Ironically, the master of musical pastiche is on a North American acoustic tour that's a preview of his upcoming album, Sea Change. From what he's streamed out to fans over the Internet so far, the album is a stripped-down affair that sees him do away with the grab-bag of instruments on 1999's Midnite Vultures in favour of one-man-with-a-guitar songwriting. As he himself said Monday, playing most of the songs on that luxe cocktail would require a few horn players, several guitarists and four DJs.

Seeing as he was accompanied only by Smokey Hormel (who also plays with Tom Waits), Beck had to rein in his madcap collage impulses.

Because this is Beck, however, that desire to romp through musical history plucking out whatever smells right demands to be satisfied.

Mr. Hansen's entertaining and moving solution has been to excavate classics from the American songbook of heartbreak, add them to his own live repertoire, and also use their foundations to spur his own shift in direction. A song such as the lovely and simple ballad Lost Cause (off the new release) would perhaps not be imaginable without the grounding influence of listening to Hank Williams.

Beck set the tone of the evening early on with a plaintive rendition of Williams's Your Cheating Heart that conjured the legend's spirit with every cry of the harmonica. Reaching further back in the past, Beck and Hormel brushed the cobwebs off John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man, a bluegrass number from the 1930s.

The song is said to be about a black man who was hanged for the shooting of a white man in 1894, and has also been recorded by Dylan.

Music critics go crazy when contemporary songwriters take up really old songs. In such dusty melodies, Greil Marcus, the most famous practitioner of music criticism as history, sees what he's termed an "invisible republic" of social and political resistance that official America has repressed. But listening to Beck play John Hardy in the same set where he also croons twisted love songs and passable imitations of the Bee Gees, one has to wonder if sometimes the critics are not engaging in a bit of hagiography.

Take Beck's versions of Tropicalia and Debra. He started the former by nicknaming the drum machine Roland (after its brand) and chatting him up. In short order, he was making up lyrics about the steamy sidewalks of Toronto on top of the already swinging melody, his voice full of Tom Jones suavity. On Debra, he had to pause to stop laughing at improvised lyrics about holding hands for two weeks, two-for-one Julia Roberts movies and hearts held together with crazy glue.

Both songs, though, have the kind of constant refrains that have filled in the lyrics of most pop songs written in the past 50 years. "I'm gonna get with you," "Watcha' you doin'," or phrases such as "The sun don't stop shining" that sound as if they were invented to be used as pop fodder.

Are these phrases incantatory tropes that can be dated and fit in like puzzle pieces of American history, or are they just Beck having fun?

In what is now a famous observation, Nick Hornby wrote in High Fidelity that a modern man or woman is defined by the snatches of pop lyrics they have stored in their minds.

Beck is so beloved for rummaging through the dustbin of music because what he pulls out are notes we all already know. He may laugh at what he finds, but as he did on Monday night, he also makes it all sparkle like new.

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