“I get a lot of formal requests. Would it be possible for us tonight to coordinate our schedules? If I send a fax over to you, and you send that fax back to me, we can make some arrangements. We’ve got some very important business…but tell me right now if I have permission to play my guitar.” Beck’s first words to his NYC fans on Thursday night were not only fast and packed with personality, but just the beginning of a memorably quote-heavy and ecstatic performance. During what was somehow his first full show at Madison Square Garden, the five-time Grammy winner made the sweeping arena feel like an intimate space; telling long stories between songs, bringing surprise guests on stage, and treating the large, lively crowd like longtime friends. The evening began with the honeyed vocals of singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis, whose comforting melodies were much needed, as she was filling in last-minute for openers Glass Animals (in both New York and Philly) after their drummer was badly injured. The audience clearly recognized the songstress – whether from her plentiful work in bands Rilo Kiley, The Postal Service, Jenny & Johnny, and Nice As Fuck, or her solo releases – and cheered affectionately for the ebbs and flows of her familiar warm voice. Her setlist even had a few clever nods to the New York City venue – like on the Rilo Kiley song, “With Arms Outstretched,” when Lewis replaced the line, “But this day by the lake went too fast,” with “But this night at the Garden went too fast,” resulting in a nice scream from her attentive listeners.
Notably, Lewis reappeared during Beck’s performance to guest on a rare track that hadn’t been played live since 2003 – and was all her idea, cooked up by the pair just ten minutes before the show, according to Beck. “She said, ‘Can we do this song called “Girl Dreams”?’ It’s from a record I did a long time ago called One Foot in the Grave, so I said, ‘I don’t think anybody’s gonna know that one.’ And she said, ‘Well, Bill Murray really likes that song.’ So I was like, ‘Hell yeah, we’re gonna do that song!’ So I basically achieved my ambitions in life: wrote a song about Bill Murray,” Beck said with a big smile. “This is for Bill.” Later, taking the crowd completely by surprise, Britt Daniel from Spoon also appeared to perform a song from Beck’s latest record (last year’s Colors), “Dear Life,” “…which will be made a whole lot better with the help of this gentleman,” as Beck noted admiringly, calling Spoon “one of the best American bands in the past 20 years.” Daniel also stuck around to sing the Spoon classic “I Turn My Camera On” with Beck, which was a blast with the two of them teaming up, and many fans flipping out as they sang along in unison. Both Beck’s delivery and body language were wildly enthusiastic throughout the show, and he seemed intent on making thoughtful use of his time at the Garden – as well as its stage, which he covered in dance moves and frequently departed as he jumped with the beat.
Though it was Beck’s first full show at Madison Square Garden, it wasn’t actually his first performance there, and he made note of this with a great anecdote early on in the evening. “It means a lot to be here tonight. It’s our first time playing Madison Square. We actually technically played here, one year at the Grammys, which was a little bit of a surreal experience. We were playing for the telecast that day, and I remember playing a song – it’s not really a story or anything, it’s just an aside,” he interjected with a grin. “I remember playing and definitely being nervous, and then being whisked around the catacombs backstage, and spit out into some weird holding area, and I didn’t know why I was there. There was one other figure there…and I looked over to my right…and it was Bruce Springsteen,” the audience gasped and launched into Bruuuuuuuce cheers. “I just looked at him, and he looked at me; it was like I was having a dream. Like, if you had a dream that you saw Bruce Springsteen, what would you say?” Beck laughed. “Well I said uh… ‘What are you doing here?’ And he looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ …which was probably a much more apt statement than what I said to him.” Like that moment, he and his band were all smiles all night, grooving constantly in front of the colorful graphics behind them – which applied a retro animation style to a slew of modern images, like shattered iPhones with incoming calls.
Beck’s setlist was an adventurous ride through his varied discography, and he even spoke about the setlist-building process during a meaningful thanks to his fans between songs. “As time goes on, you start to reflect more and appreciate more. The fact that you all come out, year after year, and come to the shows. It’s still a marvel to me that people show up, and that means so much. But what means even more is the fact that I’ve made all of these records over the years, just sort of skipping around styles and sounds and tones…” Beck’s voice trailed off momentarily as the audience roared. “…between gravitas and humor…and so many of you have gone along with it, or at least indulged me. Thank you for indulging me so often. It has become a little difficult to write these setlists, to sort of figure out…what are we here for? What are we all here to hear?” he laughed. “‘Cause some people are coming here to have a good time, but some people are here to hear the quieter ones. So…this is for those people,” Beck said before delivering a rich and meaningful “Lost Cause” from 2002’s Sea Change. His 18-song set was supplemented with a hefty encore that kicked off with “Where It’s At,” surged through a medley of NYC-specific covers that showed off his talented ensemble’s chops, soared to “One Foot in the Grave,” and ended right back at the “Where It’s At” reprise.
An amazing highlight came about when Beck discussed what it meant to him to play his first concert at Madison Square Garden, something he said many people had been asking him throughout the day. “It’s a very significant thing, I think, for a lot of people in music,” he said. “For me, it’s not just another gig. And I was thinking about it this morning… you know, the story of my family begins in New York City. And my Great Great Grandfather came here – illegally,” he said pointedly, triggering massive applause. “He came on a ship in Norway, and then he jumped off the boat, ‘cause he apparently was getting beat up by the captain or something, and well…he wanted to come here. So he jumped off the ship in Jersey City or somewhere that way, walked all the way to Queens, and started his life there as a young man. And that’s where my family came up, working on the docks, and later at a gas station, and just came up that way, in that American story. And of course, my mother grew up here in the Village, and I came here when I was about 18 on a Greyhound bus – as you do I guess, when it’s a 30-dollar special,” Beck said with a laugh. “And this is where I started playing music, down on the Lower East Side. So, I’ve spent a lot of time walking these streets, and this city – you know this city. It’s the greatest city, and it can be a brutal city too. And just blocks away from here, I remember, at a particularly low point, I was living in a sort of transient flophouse kind of place, just down the street, so… hey, you know. This is no small miracle to be here.”
Article: Olivia Isenhart