Beck roars out in Metro opener

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
August 16, 1996

Envy those who have tickets to this solid, eclectic sold-out concert.

If ever there was a male waif, it’s Beck Hansen.  Thin and slight, his frame gives off the misleading impression that he’s a small child playing at being a rock star.  But Thursday – in the first of two sold-out nights at Metro – the multitalented musician roared out with confidence and turned in one of his most solid, eclectic sets.

Beck’s music personifies what now has become a generic definition for “alternative.”  He can play hard like the guys in Rage Against the Machine, but the pining in his voice screams country.  And Beck takes his hip-hop seriously, rapping convincingly over a midtempo drum track or a funky bass line.

Touring to promote his critically acclaimed album “Odelay,” the 25-year-old musician kicked off his set with that LP’s first track, “Devils Haircut.”  He quickly segued into the rambunctious “F- – -in With My Head” from his major label debut “Mellow Gold,” which includes his breakthrough single “Loser.”

To many critics, that song, with its disturbingly catchy chorus (“I’m a loser baby/So why don’t you kill me?”), became synonymous with being a slacker, and Beck was perceived as the ultimate slacker.

In reality, Beck is a smart songwriter who is prolific enough to record on indie labels in his spare time.  He also is an ironic musician whose early songs had such titles as “Steve Threw Up” and “MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack.” Not that the cable music behemoth was offended.  When it launched its sister channel M2 two weeks ago, the first that aired was Beck’s “Where It’s At,” a song that marries his love of folk, rock, hip-hop and pop into one delicious swirl.

As his four-piece band slowed down the beat, Beck – in all his blue-jeaned glory – took a few moments to show off his dancing moves and did the Robot and the Moonwalk.  What he lacked in finesse, he made up in spunk.

Cibo Matto – which means “food madness” in Italian – opened with a disappointing set that didn’t live up to the promise of the duo’s album “Viva! La Woman.”   Keyboardist-sampler Yuka Honda had her act together cranking out a sound collage that included bossa nova rhythms, clanking objects and even some swing samples.  But vocalist Miho Hatori was nothing short of annoying.  On record, her wispy voice is modulated and in control.  No such luck live.

That they sounded better when a percussion section that included bassist Sean Lennon joined them for the last third of their 40-minute set isn’t surprising.  Their best songs (“Artichoke,” “Beef Jerky”) have little to do with their their weak lyrics (“Keanu Reeves is kissing me/And I threw up!”) or Hatori’s vocal delivery, but their  pumping rhythms and sweet grooves.

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