There's no telling when--or whom--this kind of adverse reaction will strike, but the last two months of singer-songwriter Beck Hansen's career provide a textbook example of the phenomenon. The man who a reporter writing for Billboard magazine last November claimed was "at the center of one of the most dramatic buzzes to come out of the Los Angeles music scene in nearly a decade" is already persona non grata among a hefty percentage of music-scene hipsters.
The elements of this public-relations fiasco are easy to trace. Beck first came to the attention of the media at large as a result of a bidding war for his services (won by the ultrasuccessful David Geffen Company) that left the uninitiated expecting a knockout punch. With the single "Loser," Beck delivered--sort of. The single was funny and insinuating, a melange of largely indecipherable wordplay and hip-hop tape loops that came across as modern without seeming pretentious.
Unfortunately, it was also utterly unlike just about every other tune on Mellow Gold, Beck's debut album for DGC. The disc was a grab bag of folk, rock, art and noise styles that likely took Beck about ten minutes longer than the album's running time to conceive and record. Many of those familiar with indie rock found the results charming, but other observers were appalled. They couldn't understand why Beck would fail to take seriously an opportunity like the one that had landed in his lap. In their view, his lack of respect and effort made him a product of hype, pure and simple.
What followed was an avalanche of bad press aimed straight at this poor little rich boy. Beck's appearance at the South By Southwest festival this past March in Austin led to excoriating reviews, and his subsequent tour was greeted by another wave of terrible notices. By the time the Beck caravan rolled into Boulder for an April 15 appearance at Ground Zero, the jackals were laying for him. And what they got was an anti-show performed in an atmosphere dripping with silliness.
When Beck's support act, that dog, hit the stage, the several hundred fans at Ground Zero were on their way to proving that they constituted the dumbest crowd in the history of live music. Attendees in a sizable mosh pit at the edge of the stage kept slamming into each other even when the music slowed down or stopped entirely. Meanwhile, a handful of body surfers insisted upon climbing onto the mob and doing their thing even though they were beneath an overhang only eight feet in height. As a result, the surfers repeatedly whacked their heads against the ceiling and a disco-mirror ball hanging from it--and when they put their hands out to protect themselves, several inadvertently pulled away portions of the ceiling itself, baring pipes and wires that they also started grabbing. Warnings from singer Petra Haden and concert promoter Doug Kauffman that severed wires might result in death by electrocution, the fiery destruction of the club and, coincidentally, the cancellation of the show fell on deaf ears.
Beck's arrival merely added to the mayhem. He began his set with a trio of down-tempo solo acoustic ditties that still managed to get the listeners moshing; then again, these people were so revved up that they would have moshed to Michael Bolton. Minutes later Beck brought out a standard-issue rock band and began plowing through energetic songs made completely unidentifiable by a terrible sound mix. The only tune from Mellow Gold that most people recognized was "Loser," but Beck did his best to disguise it. After playing about one minute of the song at punk velocity, the band segued into a cocktail-jazz riff while Beck screamed the lyrics to Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" and "I Ran," by A Flock of Seagulls. The message was clear: Beck was claiming that the machinery that had made "Loser" a hit had also transformed it into something as cheesy and disposable as any other random piece of shlock. He seemingly believed that the only way he could establish his credibility would be to avoid doing anything remotely entertaining.
The half-dozen angry ticket-buyers who called Westword after the show felt he accomplished this goal in spades. They were shocked by the stupidity of the concert and suggested that Beck was a ripoff that needed exposing. They apparently didn't realize that Beck was intent on exposing himself and many of the preconceptions of the music industry as a whole. This tack isn't exactly a recipe for career longevity, but Beck apparently doesn't care. He seems happy being a trivia question that, in five years' time, practically no one will be able to answer.
Beck, with Truman's Water and Karp. 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 15, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax Avenue, $10, 830-2525 or 290-