Five days prior, Beck Hansen had headlined the closing night of the Newport Folk Festival, a distinction that clearly figured into his performance. He rejiggered some of his songs for acoustic settings, sang a Jimmie Rodgers tune with folk icon Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and jammed with Andrew Bird and other artists on the lineup. It was a memorable show that could never be repeated.
Beck didn’t even try to do that at the Bank of America Pavilion on Friday night, playing a concert that was just as electrifying but for its own reasons. At least on this tour, it seems he’s having a lot of fun with his set lists and tweaking the general tone of his performances.
At the Pavilion he started fine and mellow with a four-song set of acoustic numbers, including a starry rendition of “Lost Cause.” “It’s gonna be a gradual takeoff,” he said and kept his promise once the driving percussion of “Black Tambourine” kicked in.
Beck is in between records at the moment, which gave him free rein to dive deep into and across his catalog. He dipped into songs that were the soundtrack for so many people’s high school and college years, from “Loser” to “Where It’s At” to “Devils Haircut.”
Were there songs you missed? Sure. (“Debra,” or anything from “Midnite Vultures,” would have been nice, along with something from “Mutations.”)
But those were niggling complaints for an otherwise freewheeling set. Anchored by longtime collaborator Joey Waronker on drums, Beck’s nimble band also included Smokey Hormel’s light but essential touch on guitar and mandolin (and, for “Jack-Ass,” on autoharp).
The set was especially heavy on 1996’s “Odelay” and 2005’s “Guero,” but also broad enough to include selections from Beck’s latest work, “Song Reader,” which was released in sheet-music form; the idea is that you perform the music to hear it, since Beck didn’t record it as an album.
He also mashed up his own songs with snippets of others: “Tainted Love” set the tone for “Modern Guilt,” and “Billie Jean,” even if Beck didn’t really know the words, became a rousing interlude in the middle of “Sissyneck.”
Further proving that he’s not painting by numbers on this tour, Beck even included a glowing cover of “Tugboat,” by the defunct, Cambridge-bred band Galaxie 500. Two members of that trio, Naomi Yang and Damon Krukowski, were a few seats away from me and looked beyond pleased.
It was just another example of a Beck show that was so good, so special, that if you missed it, you simply missed it. It probably won’t go down like that again.