It’s not often that you get to see a new venue on opening night — so yeah, even if Beck hadn’t been part of the deal, we would’ve been stoked to spend Friday evening at the newly refurbished and rebranded Masonic.
While it’s not technically a new venue, it might as well be: After months of construction (and literally years of fighting with Nob Hill neighbors) the historic Masonic temple reopened this weekend with a new sound system, completely revamped stage and seating areas, new bars and concessions, a shmancy new VIP section, you name it.
The renovations also upped the venue’s capacity to 3,300 — compare that to, say, the Warfield’s 2,300 — which makes it all the more impressive that the jam-packed amphitheater-shaped, with seats on the upper level and standing-room only on the floor — actually felt pretty intimate. Of course, several hundred strangers sweating on you will also do that.
“There’s no opener tonight, so we’re kind of gonna open for ourselves,” Beck told the crowd, to cheers of approval. “And we’ve been playing a lot of festivals. We thought we’d play some of the new album for you first, which we haven’t really gotten to do — this’ll be nice to stretch out a little.”
Accordingly, the first 30 minutes or so were made up of harmony-heavy, melancholy numbers off February’s Morning Phase, which Beck has said was intended as a companion to 2002’s Sea Change, his other (truly masterful) collection of heartbreakingly beautiful songs to take along on a solo post-breakup road trip. “Blue Moon” was as triumphant and warm as it was, well, blue; accompanied by an image of a werewolf-howl-worthy moon on the giant video screen behind him, the song lulled the crowd into a reflective state. The always-welcome “Golden Age” sealed the mood, with our ringleader at the guitar and harmonica.
And then, very abruptly, it was time to dance.
One almost forgets exactly how many hits Beck Hansen has written over the course of his 20-year career, until one sees them performed back-to-back. “Devil’s Haircut,” “Loser,” “Where It’s At” — if you were a young person in the 90s, there’s a good chance these lyrics are wedged permanently into some corner of your brain. A super-heavy “E-Pro” devolved into band members physically crashing into each other and falling down in a pile of guitar reverb, after which Beck, straight-faced, turned it into a crime scene, stretching a piece of yellow caution tape across the stage.
The highlight, though? Devotees of Beck’s live show will know to expect “Debra” — quite likely the best tongue-in-cheek sexytime jam ever written, and certainly the best one about wanting to romance both an intended paramour and her sister — but it doesn’t matter how much you’re anticipating it, or, say, if you saw him do it last year at Treasure Island Music Festival. When he catapults his voice into that falsetto, then busts out the regional specifics (“I’m gonna head to the East Bay, maybe to Emeryville, to the shopping center where you work at the fashion outlet…”), and actually looks like he’s still having fun with it, no matter how long he’s been doing this — well, that shit’s contagious.
If we have any complaints, it’s that the show was encore-less. But when you open for yourself and play a solid, nearly two-hour set that spans 13 studio albums, with roughly half of the songs involving running around the stage like a madman in a little sport jacket and Amish-looking hat, and don’t seem to have broken a sweat by the end of all of it — we’ll forgive you. Billboard recently called Beck “the coolest weirdo in the room,” which, seeing as this room was in San Francisco, at the start of Folsom Street Fair weekend, that might have been a stretch.
On the other hand, we’ve had this stuck in our heads for the past three days. Keep doing what you do, sir. We’ll probably be in the crowd next time, too.