I'm hesitant to say Beck is back, as he never went anywhere. The ageless postmodern pop songwriter released a string of wonderful, underrated albums over the last decade, when not producing LP for Stephen Malkmus, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Thurston Moore, between dropping free, funky covers records as part of his Record Club.
What I'll say is: Beck is healed. When he last played in Chicago, in 2008 at the Aragon, his playing and movement was muted, a far cry from the breakdancing wunderkind I remembered from Lollapalooza Nineteen-Ninety-Whatever and the Odelay tour. The 44 year old has since revealed he was suffering through some rather terrible back problems. At Union Park last night, playing before one of the largest crowds I've seen for a Pitchfork Music Festival headliner, Beck was bustin' moves and hammering on his black and white Silvertone Danelectro in songs spanning his wide discography.
RECOMMENDED: Crowd shots and more photos from Pitchfork Music Festival
That's the thing that really jumps out at you when watching Beck in 2014—his range. What other artist can go from the garage rock of "Black Tambourine" to the eerie one-man-choir of "Wave" to the manic banjo-disco funk of "Sexx Laws"? (Not counting Bowie.)
His backing band, his classic lineup of compatriots including Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Smokey Hormel and Joey Waronker, ripped, masterfully presenting the records they helped craft—Midnight Vultures, Sea Change, the new Morning Phase—while adding volume and punch to the ones they had less of a hand in—The Information, Modern Guilt, Mellow Gold. When they seemlessly slipped in little bits of Donna Summer ("I Feel Love") and the Stones ("Miss You"), I beamed.
Yes, he played "Loser," and it was glorious and people lost their minds. Beck even seemed to enjoy the song again, shouting out that "I'm a winner" sample from the cheesy race-car movie you hear at the end. It was a sing-along I had not heard at that underground-minded festival since, hmm, the Thermals covered Green Day. We festival-goers enjoy hits, and I was belting out the chorus en Español with the rest. He continued to please the thousands on hand with goofy R&B cut "Debra," dropping some fresh lines about potpourri and the driver's-side door of his Hyundai.
Following a tranquilizingly snoozy first day of Pitchfork, the little blond genius marked his territory again in a thrilling set. Let's be real, yesterday was not Pitchfork, it was a Beck concert. Please come back. Please take care of your back.