live’n’loud: Beck: Con­fes­sions of a Song Reader...................

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY - – MIKEY CAHILL

BECK’S word of the day is ‘‘dis­com­bob­u­lated’’. He’s feel­ing it too – 42-year-old Beck Hansen is rat­tled.

‘‘They’re re­tir­ing the space shut­tle so they’re fly­ing it around Cal­i­for­nia to­day, right over my house!’’ of­fers rock ’n’ roll’s age­less man­child from his villa in Sil­ver­lake as the heav­ens shake ’n’ bake.

‘‘I could hear this hel­la­cious sound of be­he­moths fly­ing over­head and I had a comedic episode of try­ing to get my door open and it got jammed. It was like miss­ing the whale,’’ he says.

He re­gains his com­po­sure. Beck’s back, think­ing fast, talk­ing slow.

‘‘Are you in Sydney?’’ he asks. Mel­bourne ac­tu­ally, a place where your scribe once met Beck and gave him a bot­tle of Yarra Val­ley shi­raz and some jelly­beans.

‘‘Oh yeah? That’s a win­ning com­bi­na­tion,’’ he twangs back.

Be­gin­ning his ca­reer proper(ly) in 1994 with ubiq­ui­tous slacker hit Loser, many pegged Beck as a lo-fi busker who was in the right place at the right time. That is kind of true – he was liv­ing in squalor and rid­ing buses around LA’s con­crete jun­gles, sit­ting in the back seat and play­ing his heart out to the an­noy­ance of most pas­sen­gers. The lo-fi thing doesn’t stick though. Beck was quoted at the time Mel­low Gold came out that he was try­ing to sound as hi-fi as pos­si­ble, he just couldn’t af­ford it. Now 12 al­bums into his ca­reer, Beck is chang­ing it up again: he’s gone no-fi.

Beck’s Song Reader will be pub­lished (not recorded!) by McSweeney’s in De­cem­ber, a col­lec­tion of sheet mu­sic with ti­tles like Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard, Mu­ti­la­tion Rag and Old Shang­hai. How did he know when the Song Reader was fin­ished?

‘‘That could have gone on for an­other decade. I’ve been toy­ing with it for years since 2004,’’ Beck replies.

‘‘The con­cept was in­spir­ing to me but also in­tim­i­dat­ing. A part of me wants to tin­ker with it for an­other year. It’s en­gag­ing with the idea of song­writ­ing in the clas­sic song­book style, tin-pan alley: Nashville, Mo­town, British Pop, ’60s pop, singer-song­writer stuff, the whole thing.’’ Along the way, Beck made some dis­cov­er­ies. ‘‘Half the sheet mu­sic pro­duced be­tween 1915 and 1940 has ukulele no­ta­tions. There was a ukulele rev­o­lu­tion hap­pen­ing in so­ci­ety, peo­ple would be thor­oughly sur­prised it was so preva­lent,’’ he chuck­les.

Ukulele popped up on 1996’s Ode­lay, in­ci­den­tally an al­bum Beck has been re­vis­it­ing. ‘‘This band toured Ode­lay for three years and knows that record inside out so I’ve been tak­ing ad­van­tage of that.’’ Don’t ex­pect the white boy funk moves though. ‘‘My days of do­ing the splits are be­hind me.’’ And so are the ’90s. Beck’s happy about that. ‘‘The ’90s were a much more con­fronta­tional time. I had gi­ant plas­tic vats of urine thrown at me.

‘‘The lows are equal to the highs,’’ he coun­ters. ‘‘There was the time in a dirt field in the mid­dle of Spain at 4am with the whole au­di­ence singing E-pro . . . af­ter we’d left the stage. Large au­di­ences in re­mote lo­ca­tions can do strange and amaz­ing things,’’ he opines.

At­ten­tion Har­vest Fes­ti­val pun­ters, don’t act dis­com­bob­u­lated, Beck is here and it’s your time to reap what he’s sown. Ode­lay­heee-hooo.

Beck, Sigur Ros, Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane, Griz­zly Bear, Ben Folds Five, Santigold, Beirut, The Dandy Warhols, The Black An­gels, Chro­mat­ics, Ozomatli and more play the Har­vest Fes­ti­val, at Bris­bane City Botanic Gar­dens, on Novem­ber 18.

Beck Hansen is chang­ing it up again: he’s gone no-fi.

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