Appropriately the tiny stage at London music bar The Social is actually dominated by two turntables (and the DJ booth that houses them), and with room made for a single microphone, it was destined Beck should be nowhere else last night (June 30).
In fact the secret gig was organised, hastily, by the Faber Social night just the evening before after the sing-songwriter decided he wanted something to do after going to the theatre and many details weren't finalised until just before show time.
“I feel like we should have all met in a park, it would have been more comfortable,” Beck suggested as he arrived onstage just after 11pm, hinting how the night's fluid arrangements. “It’s such a lovely summer’s eve. Is that legal?”
Opening with Golden Age, the Californian was in jolly and jovial form, joking with the small crowd throughout the set. Early on he declared “it’s all requests, all night!” before several false starts led to him concede he’d forgotten the chords to Rowboat – a song he’d written for Johnny Cash – and he abandoned the audience’s suggestions in favour of his quickly scrawled setlist, which initially included solo acoustic takes on Lost Cause, Blackbird Chain and Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime.
“I don’t get to sing that song much,” he informed the crowd of his The Korgis cover, before introducing his “bandmate”, his drum machine, to back a surf-heavy rendition of Gamma Ray.
Conscious of the evening’s literary connotation, Faber Social regularly hosts authors and musicians during its regular nights at The Social, Beck then paused to read from Song Reader, the collection of sheet music – “the greatest hits you’ve never heard” – he published in 2012, before reducing himself to tears of laughter by reading out fake song titles from the back of the book.
Performing the stomping One Foot In The Grave with just harmonica and vocals, Beck’s suggestion for “more folk dirges” led to a raucous cover of Prince’s Raspberry Beret – the second verse negotiated with help from one audience member whose memory was working better than the singer – before he returned again to Song Reader to give a wry, surreal reading on the importance of hygiene, above all else, when it comes to singing.
With last orders long past, Beck wrapped the night up with tender takes on Country Down and Blue Moon from the recent album Morning Phase, before going right back to the start, and to his drum machine pal, to inspire a hearty sing-a-long to Loser.
Despite the availability of the relevant equipment Where It’s At unfortunately was not played, but as Beck left its tiny stage that mantle clearly belonged to The Social’s sweaty basement last night. Paul Stokes @Stokesie
For more visit Fabersocial.co.uk. Photo Carolina Faroulo.