Live Review: Beck still proves a colorful showman

Funky pop chameleon frustrates and thrills with oddly juggled catalog


The disappointing thing about Beck’s 2017 album Colors was its production, a glossy cloak that washed his past folk-to-hip-hop quicks into booming pop-funk that sounded pretty much the same. And given that his show at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Sunday was built on big production, with kaleidoscopic, geometric imagery extended to the stage risers, there was the fear of canned overload.

Luckily, the playful, creative spontaneity that Beck Hansen brings to the stage eventually wiped most concerns clean. Opener “Devil’s Haircut” sounded clumpy in the early mix, though the singer and guitarist wasted no time sliding into funky showman mode, leading his seven-piece band through a stretch heavy on Colors (“Up All Night,” “Wow” and compatible 1999 jag Midnite Vultures (“Mixed Bizness,” “Nicotine & Gravy”).

Beck told the packed crowd that he envisioned Colors as a “psychedelic Michael Jackson” album before performing the title track in front of an aptly pulsing color tunnel – and the new songs were more enticing live despite the mix. Yet the singer also had the sense to change up the audio-visual onslaught with a few stage-front acoustic songs, a hootenanny centered by fan favorite “Debra.”

Oddly enough, the album that drew most of Beck’s focus on Sunday was 2005’s Guero, at least one of his best albums. He dug deep into more obscure tracks like “Earthquake Weather” as well as the welcome pop bop “Girl” and riff monster “E-Pro,” which sandwiched inevitable 1993 anthem “Loser,” where the illuminated crowd joined the giddy chorus of “I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me.”

After that strong close to the set, Beck managed to turn the most dreaded trick in the book, the band introduction, into an encore highlight. Donning another suit and wide-brimmed hat (this time white over a polka-dot shirt), the singer kicked into the “Got two turntables and a microphone” hipster-isms of “Where It’s At” (though the mix still buried accents like “Rock the most!”) and played up his Jackson fetish with one glove (subtly marked with a Red Sox “B”) to a snippet of “Billie Jean.” From there it was off to the races, as members of his band (which included guitarist Jason Falkner and drummer Chris Coleman, a solid replacement for Joey Waronker) led a classic rock or funk jam, touching on the Cure, Chic, New Order, Rolling Stones, Doobie Brothers and Talking Heads. Beck blew a brief “One Foot in the Grave” on harmonica and reprised “Where It’s At” to end the night.

So, on a night where Beck avoided his 2002 gem Sea Change and included token two-fers from both his 1996 landmark Odelay (“The New Pollution” was a staple earlier in the tour) and 2014 Grammy winner Morning Phase, the gangly pop genius from California made sure everyone – including the band – truly enjoyed themselves.

Also give Beck props for letting Boston’s indie-rockers Vundabar provide a fine crunch as the opening act. The Pavilion continues arena-rock indie heroes week (at least the first half) with the return of Arcade Fire on Wednesday.

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