Beck: Song Reader at the Barbican
With its twangy riff and sardonically delivered lyrics, 1994’s Loser may have been adopted as a slacker’s anthem but the man who wrote it was anything but a slouch. Over the course of the following two decades, Beck carved a unique course through popular music, blending the disparate worlds of hip hop, country and rock. However with his latest project, for once Beck let everyone else do all the work.
Released last year, Song Reader was a beautifully illustrated book of sheet music. Beck never released an official recording of the album and instead left the songs open for performers to interpret any way they desired. It was an album for the modern age of crowd-sourcing and YouTube covers, that also tipped its hat to the era before recordings, when the humble songbook was king.
Last night the Barbican played host to a live performance of the record. Beck and an all star guest list stepped up to the microphone to perform unique renditions for the first and most likely last time. Joan Wasser, Beth Orton and Jarvis Cocker all placed their individual stamp on proceedings, the latter bringing the house down with a version of Why Did You Make Me Care and his sublime dancing, which appears to become more uninhibited the older he gets.
Franz Ferdinand presented the night’s most heady excursion into rockier territory, delivering their trademark stomp on a couple of tracks. Currently limbering up for the release of their new album, the Scottish band demonstrated the pliability of Beck’s material with their version of Saint Dude. In their hands it became a fast paced slice of art-punk, while earlier The Guillemots had mined it for a very different, soulful atmosphere.
As you might expect, The Mighty Boosh delivered the oddest moment of the night. Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt plumped to sing We All Wear Cloaks, its nonsense lyrics nicely in keeping with the duo’s own line in surreal wordplay. They wore cloaks (of course) and included a glockenspiel solo.
Aside from the night’s biggest names, Fife’s James Yorkston made the biggest impression, bringing an aching tenderness to Ye Midnight Stars. A concert remarkably free of slip-ups, his performance was delayed by some faulty wiring. While a technician inspected the amp, Yorkston improvised a traditional folk ditty. “That isn’t a Beck song by the way,” he quipped. Frankly, on this night it could have been.
Photos: Mark Allan
For further information and future events visit Beck’s website here.
Watch the video for Loser here: