When Southern California's Coachella festival expanded to two identical consecutive weekends a couple years ago, the fest's participating artists were faced with a conundrum: What to do with themselves during their days off in Cali between weekends one and two? But Los Angeles tastemaker radio station KCRW solved that problem for some of Coachella's acts by hosting private "mini-Coachella" showcases at famed engineer/mixer Bob Clearmountain's refreshingly air-conditioned, no-sunscreen-required Apogee's Berkeley Street Studios.
This year's "mini-Coachella" included MGMT and Chromeo, but the lineup's top-tier artist, on April 17, was Beck, fresh off his buzzy Main Stage Coachella Sunday performance. However, this was a very different show. At the actual Coachella, Beck got only 50 minutes and had the plug pulled on him in the middle of "Where It's At" after he went four minutes over; at Apogee, he played 15 songs, and even came back after his encore to re-record five of them for the delighted concertgoers who hadn't yet left. At Coachella, he stuck mostly to crowd-pleasing '90s classics like "Devils Haircut" and "Loser"; at Apogee, his first L.A. show behind his latest excellent album "Morning Phase," he treated the intimate audience of diehard fans to five mellow "Morning Phase" tracks, most of which had only played live a few times publicly. Beck even needed a lyric sheet to get through the banjo jam "Say Goodbye," it was such a new addition to his setlist.
During a mid-show sit-down interview with KCRW music director and "Morning Becomes Eclectic" DJ Jason Bentley, Beck explained that he had deliberately tailored his Coachella set for a mainstream festival audience. "It's not your show; it's its own thing," he explained. "There was a DJ [Calvin Harris] and fireworks on before us!" He also joked about his signature hit "Loser," saying, "You gotta play that one; it's part of the contract."
Beck's KCRW showcase had its own fun festival vibe, however. For instance, he reprised his Coachella mashup of "Think I'm In Love" and Giorgio Moroder/Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" ("That was a big song for me as a kid, because I'd never heard synthesizers like that," he told Bentley), with Jellyfish/Moog Cookbook synth wizard Roger Joseph Manning Jr. on the keys. He also broke out in the middle of "Sissyneck" to do an outrageously fun and funky cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," complete with "Thriller"-era dance moves.
"We play Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, christenings...and funerals," Beck quipped, as his band segued into a slowed-down, funereal version of "Billie Jean" that he joked sounded just like Tool.
Beck made his worldwide radio debut on KCRW almost 21 years ago, in July 1993, back when Chris Douridas was KCRW's music director and "Morning Becomes Eclectic" host. This latest "MBE" session with Bentley will air Wednesday, April 23. The full setlist was:
Don't Let It Go
Think I'm in Love/I Feel Love
Soul of a Man