Review: Beck & Meg Mac at the Margaret Court Arena, February 28 2018

Last year, Beck announced that he was set to descend upon Australia for the first time in six years for the inaugural Sydney City Limits festival, in support of his thirteenth album, Colors. When the musical chameleon happened to announce sideshows for Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, fans were eagerly awaiting these long overdue performances to refresh their memories as to why he’s one of the world’s most versatile and accomplished musicians.

As crowds slowly trickled into Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena last night (which featured small signs made by the public referring to it as the ‘Marriage Equality Arena’), there was much talk about the show that awaited them. Overheard conversations included some fans hoping to hear some of his earliest cuts, while others hoped for something more recent. The most exciting thing about this though was that both fans had equal chances of leaving happy, with audiences never really knowing what to expect from a Beck setlist.

As showtime rolled around, a sadly all-too-small crowd was in attendance for one of Australia’s most talented performers of the moment, Meg Mac. Fresh from a huge year which saw the release of her debut record, Low Blows, Meg Mac took to the stage with her five-piece backing band, all of them dressed in shades of black and white – a far cry from the Colors tour which Beck was bringing to the people.

As Meg Mac kicked off her set, which included hits such as ‘Never Be’, ‘Low Blows’, and ‘Roll Up Your Sleeves’ this hugely talented muso showed off her amazingly soulful pipes to a hometown crowd, proving why she has been so popular in recent years with her her catchy, almost gospel-like tracks.

With her sister on backing vocals, and a hugely-talented backing band behind her, Meg Mac continued to deliver the hits, showcasing her stellar cover of Bill Wither’s ‘Grandma’s Hands’, and even throwing down her 2017 Like A Version cover of Tame Impala’s ‘Let It Happen’. By the end of her set, there wasn’t a single audience member who wasn’t enthralled by what they had just witnessed, and it was clear that she had made more than a few new fans.

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Following a short intermission (which consisted of almost nothing but tracks by The Clash piped in from the P.A. system), Margaret Court Arena swelled to almost-maximum capacity, as the eager crowd tried their best to find the best vantage point to witness a musical icon.

Following a slightly delayed kick-off, Beck ran straight into the evening’s set headfirst, throwing down the huge opening riff from 1996’s ‘Devil’s Haircut’, before effortlessly segueing into fan favourites such as ‘Black Tambourine’ and ‘New Pollution.

Backed by visuals that consisted of strobing lights, MC Escher-like creations, ASCII art, and splashes of avant-garde colour, the audience could hardly tell where to look, as hit after hit kept coming at them from Beck, who himself provided mesmerising visuals, cutting shapes and dancing around the stage like a man possessed.

“It’s been a long time,” said Beck, addressing the audience for the first time. “Donned my leathers tonight because I got a little business to take care of right now,” he teased, jumping into further favourites including ‘Mixed Bizness’, ‘Go It Alone’, and ‘Think I’m In Love’, which featured a short snippet of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel love’.

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As the night continued, it became evident that Beck’s backing musicians, which consisted of seven immensely talented musicians more than capable of leading their own show, were the perfect people to be working on a live show such as Beck’s. While his sample-based music found him a huge audience throughout the ‘90s, it remains an amazing feat that these hits can translate so seamlessly onto the live stage thanks to a talented band such as his.

Transitioning between early hits and fresh cuts in an almost disjointed fashion, Beck at one point decided to go solo, taking his acoustic guitar to the people as he asked for requests. Following a short cover of Prince’s ‘Raspberry Beret’, he dove into fan favourite ‘Debra’, which was slightly modified for the Australian audience. (“Somebody told me when I was in Australia I should change it to Sheila, is that appropriate?”) With the addition of almost ad-libbed vocals, fans received a performance that was well and truly one of a kind, before being treated to tunes from his Grammy Award-winning record, Morning Phase.

Sadly, the evening’s sound mix was a little uneven, leaving some fans rather disappointed at their inability to hear Beck’s vocals. At one point, a rather brave group of fans began to chant out “We can’t hear you,” in hopes that the evening’s main attraction may take action against their plight. Unfortunately their pleas feel on deaf ears, and the show continued. If they still couldn’t hear the performance as it went on, they certainly didn’t make themselves known again.

However, one of the most amazing aspects of the evening’s performance was Beck’s innate ability to slip between genres and styles as if every song was part of a never-ending stream of musical consciousness. Going between the indie-folk of ‘Blue Moon’, the the psych-rock of ‘Soul Of A Man’, and onwards to the trap-influenced ‘Wow’, this gig helped to show why Beck is not only a fearless performer, but a consummate professional who desires little more than to give fans every piece of himself.

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Following a monstrous performance of fan favourite ‘E-Pro’, Beck and his band of musicians took their leave, only to remerge to run through classic tracks such as ‘Loser’, ‘Where It’s At’, and a snippet of the alt-country classic ‘One Foot In The Grave’, proving that even now, with a huge back catalogue of new hits to his name, the early tracks still resonate strongly with the crowd.

While fans have certainly been missing Beck from Australian shores, he did promise to rectify his prolonged absences with a return sooner rather than later. “All I’m thinking is, why haven’t I been here in the last six years? What the hell?”, he asked the crowd. “I’ll bring pyro next time, some confetti,” he added, with further promises drowned out by a deafening roar from the crowd.

Even now, close to 30 years since he started the musical career that sent him on the path to becoming one of the most revered and respected artists of the ’90s, ’00s, and ‘10s, Beck’s Melbourne performance proved that he can still deliver a stunning performance that leaves almost everyone in attendance in complete awe of what they had witnessed.

Check out Beck’s ‘Where It’s At’:

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Beck @ Margaret Court Arena 28/2/17 Setlist

‘Devils Haircut’
‘Black Tambourine’
‘The New Pollution’
‘Qué Onda Guero’
‘Mixed Bizness’
‘Go It Alone’
‘Think I’m In Love’
‘Seventh Heaven’
‘l’m So Free’
‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’
‘Raspberry Beret’
‘Debra’
‘Lost Cause’
‘Heart Is A Drum’
‘Blue Moon’
‘Soul Of A Man’
‘Wow’
‘Dreams’
‘Up All Night’
‘E-Pro’

Encore

‘Loser’
‘Where It’s At’
‘One Foot In The Grave/Where It’s At’