Nobody tell him, but Beck is pushing 50.
Not that you’d know it from simply looking up toward the stage – especially if you were one of the thousands of screaming and dancing fans watching him perform his genre- and decade-spanning discography Saturday night at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington.
With a Grammy win for Best Alternative Music Album for 2017’s “Colors” – and a new album on the way this summer – you’d think that Beck Hansen, born Beck David Campbell, would show signs of slowing down. Or at least drop a hint or two that he’d like some time off.
Apparently not. Instead, the 49-year-old alternative rocker announced the “Night Running” tour alongside co-headliners Cage the Elephant – with openers Spoon and Los Angeles-based punk rock group Starcrawler – with stops scheduled across 28 U.S. cities, ending Aug. 30 in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Gorge was the tour’s second stop after opening in Ridgefield, Washington.
The show started Saturday in the late afternoon with Starcrawler’s young lineup greeting concertgoers as they staked out precious patches of grass along the Gorge’s steep hills, offering a gorgeous view of the Columbia River.
Equal parts punk, metal and shock rock, lead singer Arrow de Wilde set the tone for the night when she covered herself in red paint, smearing it on her face as the group finished its final song to guttural sounds of feigned ecstasy. The night might get weird, but that’s OK, she seemed to wink.
Next up was Spoon, an Austin-based indie rock band whose hits most people probably recognize – they just don’t know it. The quartet first found commercial success in 2005 with the upbeat and energetic “The Way We Get By” – a song that quickly became a staple in nearly every indie movie released in the late 2000s, most prominently in the Will Ferrell comedy “Stranger Than Fiction.”
That same fate befell Spoon’s next major single, “The Underdog,” an alternative rock gem with a signature chorus of horns and strumming acoustic guitar perfectly toned for an upbeat comedy or two (or even a blockbuster, as featured in 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming”). Both songs played well to the younger crowd, many of whom realized halfway through that they knew the tune.
Just as the sun hit the horizon, creating a cascade of purple and pinks above that eschews any Instagram filter, Cage the Elephant hit the stage with an exuberant energy that at times carried lead singer Matt Shultz into the crowd. He seemed to enjoy his time there, forgoing the stage to perform multiple songs among the throes of singing fans.
Dressed head-to-toe in red (a nod to Starcrawler, perhaps?) with a mop of messy hair on his head, Shultz appeared to channel the energy of legendary performer Iggy Pop – or even Mick Jagger, as sacrilegious as that might sound – dancing and moving in such a manner that emphasized, intentionally or not, his lanky and oh-so-skinny stature.
The Bowling Green, Kentucky, group crashed the alternative rock scene in 2008 and has remained one of the rare modern rock acts to maintain success among millennials despite the masses turning to subgenres in rap and electronic dance music for their alternative music fix.
Opening with lesser-known tracks like “Broken Boy” and “Cry Baby,” it wasn’t long before Cage the Elephant moved into mega-hit “Ready to Let Go,” by which point Shultz had already stripped down and was shirtless, much to the glee of women and girls in the front row.
Without stopping for more than a moment, the group quickly and impressively moved through hit after hit, including the twangy and blues-inspired “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” – a track that not only propelled Cage the Elephant into a household name, but also has enjoyed constant radio play ever since.
Then, as the band moved toward the end of its 19-song set, Cage played “Come a Little Closer” and “Shake Me Down” before ending on 2013’s “Teeth.” It was only then that Shultz offered his longest and most memorable message to the masses dancing and singing in the hills.
“I love you,” he said. “I love you.”
With the sun firmly set behind the stage, it was time for the man, the myth, the legend – the Scientologist – to perform. And boy does he know how to make an entrance. Standing in the middle of a diamond projected on the video wall behind him, Beck emerged silhouetted by beams of light, guitar in hand.
And what better way to begin a show than with the song that started it all? As the first few licks of the guitar in the opening seconds of “Loser” rang out, it was clear to the crowd that this is what they came to see.
As the cheering grew louder, Beck kept at it, skillfully moving through high points in his entire discography, touching on tracks from at least eight albums.
Before long, he was belting the breezy, yet terrifying lyrics of “Girl,” which sounded just like it does on the album. It was quickly followed by “Black Tambourine,” which, when played live, has more in common with a jam rock ballad than anything.
Only after getting to 2016’s “Wow,” in the middle of the set, did he take a moment to pause, take in his surroundings and address the crowd.
“It’s not every day you get to play a spot like this,” he said. Which is a shame, since the last time he was in Central Washington, he said Jack Black rushed the stage: “I don’t know how we’re going to top that, but we’re gonna try.”
As the songs kept rolling, it was easy to see how Beck’s genre-agnostic career could translate perfectly into a well-paced live show. It was folk one second, hip-hop the next, then full-on electronic before switching to psychedelia and then back to rock.
All fine and good until he and his band abruptly left the stage after “Up All Night.” An ironic choice, seeing how it was playfully too soon to stop. Which is why practically nobody was surprised when Beck walked back onstage.
Then they heard it – the iconic, slow melody of “Where It’s At” booming over the speaker, a riff so iconic he might as well bottle and sell it as Generation X cheer bait.
Beck was back, and this is where it’s at. And while the music landscape is an entirely different beast than the one he conquered in 1996, he’s not done yet. All he needs are two turntables and a microphone.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Monday, July 15, 2019 to correct which musician rushed the stage with Beck when he was last at the Gorge. It was comedian and rocker Jack Black.
Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter
Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.