Beck And Friends at PPAC is Where it’s At

Jack White joins in for an encore at Beck's PPAC concert

As fans cheered Beck back for an encore, it seemed obvious that an already unforgettable concert wash’t finished. Suddenly, the genre-bending singer-songwriter invited a special guest to the stage: Jack White, fresh from closing out day two of the Newport Folk Festival. White played along to some of Beck’s biggest hits and provided a fitting end for an exceptional concert that mixed Beck’s newer, more acoustic songs with the feverish party anthems that made him the preeminent boy wonder of 90’s indie rock.

Before the night’s main attraction, opening act The Ghost of a Sabertooth Tiger got things started with 70’s-style psychedelic rock. Sean Lennon (the only son of John and Yoko Ono) and girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl lead the band, and have recorded three albums together. They stuck closely to their 2014 release, Midnight Sun, performing such tracks as “Too Deep”, “Animals”, and “Midnight Sun”. These songs’ trippy, sometimes Beatelesque sound was familiar but intriguing, though  often repetitive.

After picking up a Beck T-shirt during intermission, the real show began. Stagehands scurried off in the dark, and the star arrived. Beck and his back-up band stepped onto the stage, awash in blue lighting. “We just got back from Newport, so I want to start things off quiet and then build to midlevel chaos”, Beck told a cheering audience. He stayed true to that statement, beginning with songs from his latest album, the sweepingly melancholic, sometimes masterful, and, yes, quiet Morning Phase. Beck started with “Blue Moon”, a recent single with lonely lyrics and a huge, walloping drums. Other highlights of this hushed opening included “Heart is a Drum” and “Lost Cause”, from 2002’s Sea Change.

Beck rocks his 1996 jam "Devil's Haircut" at PPAC

After seven low-key tracks, things switched from Sad Singer-Songwriter Beck to Loud Party-Rocker Beck. Alarming numeric animations filled the video screen, while Beck launched into the hard-rocking Odelay opener “Devil’s Haircut”. He’s a natural at live performances, teasing the crowd with hints about songs, dancing around the stage, and playing all the hits his audience came for, and some deep cuts they didn’t expect. Such lively charisma lends itself to his wide-ranging style of danceable party-rock that includes songs like the stripped-down “Black Tambourine”, Care Bears-sampling classic “Beercan”, and electrifying anthem “E-Pro”. Everyone in the audience danced, sang, and clapped; making the concert an impromptu dance-party.

During the concert’s most out-there moment, Beck played an enjoyably bizarre medley of his own “Think I’m In Love” (updated with lyrics about dating sites) and Donna Summer’s disco classic “I Feel Love”.  In another moment of winking cheesiness, Beck claimed “Sometimes the best way to express yourself is with a slow jam” and played the disco-parody “Debra”, from his funky 1999 album Midnite Vultures. On the video screen, twinkling animated diamonds flashed.

After (supposedly?) finishing up with the horn-driven “Sexx Laws” and “E-Pro”, Beck left the stage. “Bring him back”, one of the backing band’s members told us. Shouts and screams followed, and the star of the show returned. “I have a very special guest for you tonight”, he announced. Beck sprinkled clues about the mystery guest, saying he’s “the best bartender on the East Coast” and “he’ll build you a couch”. And then: “Ladies and gentleman, the legendary Jack White!” As White walked on to the stage, it became clear Beck wasn’t kidding; this was the Jack White. A few hours after he closed out day two of the Newport Folk Festival, the former White Stripes frontman was here, in Providence.

“Here’s one I don’t play very often”, Beck teased, before launching into the lazy country lament “Pay No Mind”. At that point, I wasn’t really paying attention to the music; I was still realizing that JACK WHITE IS PLAYING 27 ROWS FROM WHERE I’M STANDING. In an unforgettable moment, White played slide guitar on Beck’s 90’s folk-rap hit “Loser”. There wasn’t a single audience member not singing along. Same went for the extended jam of electro-rock anthem “Where It’s At” that closed out the mind-blowing show. After all, when you have Beck, some of the best indie-rock songs of the past two decades, and Jack White, you’re pretty much guaranteed an exceptional concert.

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