Oversleeping on the evening of a show is the sort of grim fate you’d not wish to befall even your most despised of compadres: you’re left open only to intimations toward all you’ve missed out on, frequently feeling silent pangs of dismay and an intense sense of self-loathing not even a trough of beer could remedy. And it was thus that, bleary-eyed and wide awry, I stumbled into one I’d so impatiently awaited for quite some while.
Not since 2003 has Beck Hansen played the supremely becoming Union Chapel, and that night to this day remains one of his most revered London dates. He then aired an extempore cover of Nelly’s Hot In Herre and by the time I belatedly amble into Islington, it’s absolutely sweltering inside and out. “You might make the encore” an importunate bouncer smirks, the typically frosty disposition such a position so frequently requires thawing a degree or two. A glance over toward the soundboard, and it would appear this evening began as did that of a decade ago – with the instant crest of the impeccably immersive Sea Change, and The Golden Age. One day I’ll hear it in such resplendent surrounds as these, I reassure myself with a distinct lack of conviction plaguing my internal monologue.
But inappositely infernal as it may be in herre, and with the whispers of the demonic figure on my dishonest left shoulder overwhelming those of the seraph over to the right, I rip myself away from this modern guilt a minute to indulge in the moment. As was first taught in chapter three; verse fourteen of Philippians, I’m ‘forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead’ with determined resolution. And that which is already underway is perhaps the most compelling performance I’ve yet seen of Beck…
From a dilapidated Gamma Ray inspiringly rejuvenated in what is a relatively pared back retransmission to a muggy, tumbleweed-addled Already Dead, the evening signals an evocative return to Hansen’s ramshackle beginnings. It’s not quite a reversion to the rather modest setup of “two turntables and a microphone”, although it’s closer than most. And his features, for once seen in this striking intimacy, remain cherubic as the day the aforesaid LP from which the latter is this evening lifted was first released. But what also this evening transpires to make itself patent is his highly perceptible semblance of a quixotic left field pop star. He’s the looks, the locks and the immaculate vocal to match although as has so frequently seemed his wont – particularly in those earlier phases of his admirably variegated career thus far – he opts to instead interpret the role of jocular jongleur. Whether wrestling with a decidedly recalcitrant, nonliteral Japanese drummer named Korg or intermingling the beat of Billie Jean with the inspiriting chorus of Get It On – an impromptu mashup led by the tambourine shimmer of a kid who most certainly is his son in the again angelic form of Cosimo Hansen – there’s a humour at play that’s wry as the room is now irredeemably dry to the point of becoming satanically desiccated.
It’s arguably Cosimo’s involvement which occasioned the early start time I still rue even this afternoon, although it’s as we quietly creep past his presumed bedtime that Hansen Snr. really comes alive. From a freely flowing, and fully stellar take on Big Star originator Chris Bell’s I Am the Cosmos through to a subdued, if still empyrean All In Your Mind it’s stuff of the Seventh Heaven ephemerally made available to we mere mortals. Elsewhere, gospel enthusiast and gangly local laddie Bobby Gillespie clicks his spurs and clambers onstage for tumbledown run-throughs of Hank Williams’ You Win Again and the Rolling Stones’ Dead Flowers in an extended coda that, if a little Cadillac karaoke, sees an unlikely pairing combining to profoundly involving effect, while an unknown other lifted from “the book. Not the good book, but the second most important” sheds a slive of divine light on the couple acoustic recordings allegedly set for release sometime sooner, rather than later.
And this, from what I can see and scarcely make out from the very back pew, is indicative of the way in which Hansen really eases into the show as it takes a continually freer form whilst rambling on, over, and eventually out. This is Beck doing just as he so desires as and when he wants to, and during an extended Debra, the incestuous homoeroticism intrinsic to its ribald lyricisms never toned down even a smidgen, he makes this flagrantly apparent.
It’s of course great testament to Hansen as both a penman and a performer that he’s able to hold me rapt as most faiths prove unwavering, even mere moments after I’d mercifully managed to interrupt my deep slumber. For what could quite easily have been an ill-advised return to the scene of one of his most esteemed shows instead eventuates yet another beatific experience from the zany beatnik wildcard and as I depart, I vow to myself to next time, presupposing the premise of their being one, endeavour only to make the evening in its entirety and subsequently hope it’s anywhere near as immediately engaging as these all too evaporable lattermost moments appear…