Beck & Cage The Elephant w/ Spoon & Wild Belle; The Night Running Tour 2019; Riverbend Music Center, Cincinnati, OH – Friday, August 2, 2019
Anybody who saw Beck appear in the “Echo In the Canyon” movie, a film celebrating the music from the LA area in the late 60’s and early 70’s, performing the song “Goin’ Back” (a Carole King song made popular by Dusty Springfield and also recorded by the Byrds) with Jakob Dylan, might not have expected the artist’s over-the-top rock show antics, full-on state-of-the-art production tricks, and diverse musicality. Of course, if you’ve been paying attention to the whole of Beck’s creative out-put you’re likely aware he’s an artist that has put the eccentric into the word eclectic.
From the concert’s opening, where the artist played some Delta blues’ acoustic slide guitar licks before kick-starting his break-out hit from 1994, “Loser,” to the encore of “Where It’s At,” with its celebration of hip-hop’s “two turntables and a microphone,” Beck revealed his wide spectrum of musical interests, touching base with everything from punky folk, and disco funk, to glossy pop song sing-alongs and gritty rock & roll. Early in his set he played two of the big singles from his 1996 album, “Odelay,” “Devil’s Haircut” and “The New Pollution,” which featured a sweet sax solo. Beck moved on to “Que Onda Guero,” which found him rapping over the song’s Latin beat, then strapping on an electric guitar to play “Black Tambourine,” both from his 2005 album, “Guero.” Feeling the funk a little, Beck engaged the audience with some give and take rooted on his interpretation of Sly Stone’s vocal chorus from “I Want to Take You Higher.”
Curiously, Beck played down his latest album, 2017’s “Colors” although two of the nights biggest pop rock production numbers came from it, “Wow,” and then later in the set, “Dreams,” the album’s big single from months prior to its release. In the middle, almost as a reaction to the high gloss saccharin of those shiny examples of electronic music, Beck brought things down for a more intimate acoustic reading of his song “Debra,” the story song of how he met his girlfriend Jenny, who works at J.C. Penny, asking the crowd if he needs to change the lyrics to Amazon since he doesn’t know if Penny’s are still operating. This is as close as Beck got to his most mellow albums, including the 2014 award winning release, “Morning Phase.”
Then Beck delivered his newest single, “Saw Lightning” from his soon to be released new album, titled “Hyperspace.” As the set was moving toward a climax, Beck gave a shout out to all the “summer girls,” delivering his song “Girl,” but evidently changing the key lyric from “cyanide” to “summer,” then rocked things to the set proper’s close with “Up All Night,” another from “Colors,” and “E-Pro,” making “Guero” his go to album of the night.
The encore, as I said was “Where It’s At” divided into two sections, the first half played powerfully by Beck’s great 7 piece backing band, with large silver balloons kicked into the crowd. Then pausing for a break, he invited his lead guitarist, who’d done an impressive job throughout the night,” to play something gritty. He delivered the opening guitar hook of The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” to which Beck sing the “do, do, do’s,” but moved on before the song took flight. Then he brought opening act Spoon’s lead singer Britt Daniel, whom he repeatedly referred to as a “legend,” to the stage for a brief cover of Elvis Costello rowdy punk rocker, “Pump It Up,” Britt taking the verses and Beck joining in on the choruses. Then saying he wanted more friends to join him, Beck brought on Matt Shultz of co-billed headline band, Cage the Elephant, and the earliest opening act of the night’s Wild Belle female vocalist, Natalie Bergman, who both sang verses on the Beck/Cage collaboration, “Night Running,” the song which gave the tour its name. But in good time, they had found their way back into “Where It’s At,” complete with confetti cannons as if to announce that the evening was over. A good long night of great music it was, and by all appearances a good time was had by all, including those who filled the lawn.
But of course, Beck was not the only head-liner, he shared the bill with modern rockers Cage the Elephant, led by the equally compelling lead vocalist Matt Shultz. The band’s stage set-up including a large staircase with drummer Jared Champion at the top in the center, but that set-up allowed guitarist Brad Shultz (brother to the singer), to park himself in a chair to the left side, which was necessary because his leg was in a large cast. But even with the elaborate set-piece, with flames running along the front of the steps as the band began playing “Broken Boy,” the opening track of their album from earlier this year, “Social Cues,” Matt Shultz is such a curious and compelling performer that most of your attention stayed with him. To begin with the singer sang the opening song, and then next few wearing a long red robe over a suit that looked like silk pajamas, with a wide-rimmed hat over his eyes and red sunglasses. He had on gloves, and moves back and forth in a manic fashion, even as he delivers rockers “Cry Baby” and “Spiderhead.”
While at times the singer looks visually like a young Mick Jagger, but he tends to have moves like, well… Iggy Pop. During “Too Late to Say Goodbye” he couldn’t resist any longer and jumped down into the audience, but the band gave his disappearance little notice, digging into “Cold Cold Cold” while Shultz eventually made his way back to the stage. “Ready to Let Go” was up next, and the singer was in constant motion, eventually losing the robe and the gloves, as the band shifted into the haunting title track from the new one, followed by “Tokyo Smoke,” with the Brad Shultz imitating a Japaneze musical riff in the opening guitar part, as they introduced lasers to their mix of lights. During “Mess Around,” the singer announced, “Let’s celebrate!” then while he struggled to remove the sweaty outer jacket, his brother Brad Shultz delivered a vivid guitar solo.
During “Trouble,” with lots of fans singing along, guitarist Nick Bockrath brought a little girl of about 4 years of age on stage, explaining later that she was a niece. Shultz put the microphone in front of her to sing, but even though she was moving her lips as if familiar with the song, she grew shy when the mic was in front of her, but he kissed her on the cheek and Bockrath carried back to the rest of her family.
At this point Shultz spoke to the crowd, before evoking some loud call & response with the crowd singing back to match his screams and yells and hoots. Shultz moves on stage often dancing to the beat, but rarely stopping at the conventional, often landing on one leg and trying to balance for an indefinite period of time, and during “Skin and Bones” he sang lying on the stage with his face to the crowd but then rolled into a half summersault with the singer’s feet stuck in the air as he kept singing the song. Manic didn’t even get to the half of it, and during “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked,” he handed the microphone to a fan in the front row who did a good job singing the lead vocal while he removed his outer shirt.
As wild and weird as Shultz’ performance gets, he seems to never miss his singing parts, and the audience was engaged, often singing along. During “It’s Just Forever,” he pulled out a baton flash light, and the audience all the way back to the lawn quickly responded by turning on the lights on their phones, but at one point I noticed keyboardist Matthan Minster singing lead when Shultz was busy getting out of more of his outer layers. “House of Glass” was a big number, but as the song moved toward its conclusion Shultz picked of a towel that appeared to be made of burlap, pulled it over his head concluded singing with his back to the crowd.
By the time they were through “Come a Little Closer,” Shultz was down to a pair of boxing shorts, knee pads and a mesh undergarment that looked like a spider’s web of black yarn. “Shame Me Down” was another sing-along for the crowd, while “Cigarette Daydreams” got a mostly acoustic treatment before the big rock finish of “Teeth,” which brought guitarist Brad Schultz down toward the front of the stage from his stoop, leaning on a stool, while flames and gas fireballs filled the stage and the lights and smoke went into over-drive and Bockrath took off his guitar and appeared to drop it to the stage where it broke to pieces. No sooner had the song ended, than the band’s players left the stage and the loudspeakers carried the sound of Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” but Mark Shultz was not done yet. While the crew quickly began dismantling the stair stage to make room for Beck’s set-up, Shultz walked on the backs of the seats up through the crowd to the back of the amphitheater to the lawn, where based on the loud cheers of the crowd he continued to entertain them, without a microphone, for another 20 minutes before making his way back to the stage… you might say, he was all in.
With just 45 minutes to play their opening 11-song set, veteran Austin indie-rockers Spoon wasted little time once they hit the stage, opening with the one new song/single on their just released “best of” album, “Everything Hits At Once,” “No Bullets Spent.” Led by Britt Daniel in a cowboy hat, the band shifted back and forth between their aggressive songs that lean hard toward guitars, and their aggressive songs that lean more toward the keyboards, with a consistently strong punchy sound from the rhythm section of drummer Jim Emo and bassist Ben Trokan. Highlights included “The Way We Get By” and “Got Nuffin’” that emphasized guitars, while “My Mathematical Mind” and “”Inside Out” which emphasized the keys. Big bold melodic rockers brought the set to a stunning conclusion, “Don’t You Evah,” “Do You” and “Rent I Pay.” If folk were new to them, they certainly made new fans given that the crowd was mostly present by the end of their solid, high-energy set.
Wild Belle, the fourth band on a very full night of music, got started at 6 pm, so they were half way through their set, before I got to my seat… but the sibling duo of singer Natalie Bergman and multi-instrumentalist Elliot Bergman had a very intriguing sound. Playing over looped rhythm tracks that tended to be a mix of disco and world beat influences, a support bass player and Elliot on keys and synths, and bari-sax solos balanced nicely against Natalie’s lead vocals… they deserve a second hearing. But on the whole if you’re going to spend a warm night in river humidity listening to live music, this was a fun, very compelling bill… three bands I love, and one I’m intrigued with.
-Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb
Brian Quincy Newcomb has found work as rock critic and music journalist since the early 80's, contributing over the years to Billboard Magazine, Paste, The Riverfront Times, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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