Beck, born Bek David Campbell, has been the king of the oddballs and uber-cool malcontents since first bursting into the public consciousness in the early ’90s. From the beginning, he has offered something for educated, discerning music lovers; he tears up the form book with one hand and the rule book with the other, doing whatever he feels like musically, with the confidence that his fans will be there to enjoy it.
Beck plays Red Rocks this week. It’s not his first time at the venue, and he’s excited to return.
“Red Rocks is very special,” he says. “It’s very unusual to have the audience above you. Usually you’re up on stage looking down. There’s a sort of a dynamic inversion where all of a sudden everybody’s looking down on you. It’s like being in this sort of Roman venue. I’ve noticed with myself and the band that it wakes you up out of the routine. You’re engaging up towards the sky.”
Now deep into his forties, Beck is still a compelling performer and frontman. He hasn't lost any of the swagger and energy that he built his reputation on when he first emerged as an alt-hip-hop performer with the Mellow Gold album and the accompanying “Loser” single in ’94. He has, however, had to evolve.
“I think, over the years, I’ve tried everything and anything,” Beck says. “When you start out, you’re playing to people who aren’t paying much attention or they’re waiting for somebody else. Like most bands do, you spend a lot of years playing before the people who everybody came to see. That’s one approach. There was a point for me when everybody’s paying so much attention, and you have to get used to that. I’ve tried different kinds of performances – doing less, doing more, making it more colorful and energetic, trying to bring it down and making it more dramatic. As time goes on, I try to find the balance. There’s a little bit of everything in the show. There’s a bit of energy and recklessness and fun – some more personal, vulnerable aspects. Hopefully, it’s all mixed together.”
Because he refuses to allow the quality of his live show, or indeed his music, to drop at all, Beck has always picked up new fans while keeping his old ones.
“I’ve noticed that, every so often, you see new people coming in,” Beck says. “That’s just the way it is. Sometimes, certain albums are just frozen in time. If you’re lucky you get some new people, who just found out what you were doing, last week. That’s the best, and it’s great having fans who have been there for a long time. It’s sort of like a family. Some familiarity. We played a lot of shows last summer, including a street festival in Atlanta, and there were a lot of kids there letting loose, which makes me happy. When I started out, there were a lot of shows where we played and people were not letting loose. There was a little bit of wait and see. ‘Let me see if I want to go there with this, if people are up for it.’”
More than three years have passed since Beck’s last studio album, 2014’s Morning Phase, and he’s not particularly interested in talking about any new material, despite chatter that something is coming up later this year. When it comes to his Red Rocks set, Beck hints that we might, just might, hear some new songs.
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“We’ll play a little bit of everything,” he says. “Maybe sneak some new things in there — I don’t know. We’ll play it by ear, mostly.... Every year, we like to change things up a bit – try to keep the best of what we’ve done in shows in the past, and then try to find some new angles. Hopefully we’ll get people on their feet and it’ll be a good night.”
After Red Rocks and this run of shows, Beck says, he'll be working on new artwork, new videos, new aspects of a show, and new music. When we’ll see or hear any of that is anyone’s guess. But that mystery is and has always been part of what makes Beck so alluring.
Beck plays with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, at 7:30 p.m., on Tuesday, July 11, at Red Rocks, 18300 West Alameda Parkway, Morrison, 720-865-2494.