We didn’t know that Beck was schedule to play the first Fuji Rock Festival in 1997. We assume that he was on the doomed second day, which was cancelled due to a typhoon. In any case, he mentioned this fact near the beginning of his headlining show at the Green Stage Saturday night, a fully pop showcase of the artist’s career highs, a greatest hits show if there ever was one. Naturally, the audience loved it, but what did it say about Beck’s legacy as an alternative artist?
He almost threw away the first three songs, as if he wanted to get them over with: “Devil’s Haircut,” “Black Tambourine,” and “Loser,” that latter a song that become so iconic that when the audience dutifully chanted the chorus in accordance with Beck’s wishes — “I’m a lost baby, so why don’t you kill me” — you couldn’t decide if you should choke up or be depressed.
Part of the problem is the way he assumed the guise of a superstar; dressed mostly in black, with a polka-dot shirt, Beatle boots and black fedora, his pimp-like aura emphasized his regret at having not been born a black man. The blues and soul tropes he appropriated so freely in his career were showcased openly during his set. Though “Sea Change” and “Morning Phase” are the albums that garnered the bulk of praise for their quiet, contemplative mood, “Midnite Vultures,” his ode to black music, was the album he referenced the most this time. His gospel chops were whiter than Wonder Bread, but they were also thrilling.
And despite the awkward attempts at “authenticity” it worked, mainly because he was so sincere in his desire to both entertain and make a connection with an audience he obviously cherished. At the end of the set, during “Two Turntables and a Microphone,” he sat down (after having conspicuously changed into an ensemble that exchanged the monochrome cast of his previous clothing into something patterned on red) and discussed his relationship with Japan, as if it were something we really cared about. We don’t think anybody did, but the fact that he went out of his way to express that, “If I could, I’d just like to sit here and have a conversation with all of you.”
Actually, that’s what the whole concert way: a conversation that everyone got. Nobody wanted him to be anyone except who he was, regardless of his own insecurities.