A few songs into Beck’s opening night performance at the remodeled SF Masonic, he asked the crowd “How does it sound out there? Does it sound good?” A resounding chorus of yes and yes equivalents was heard back. Yes, the SF Masonic sounds good. It also looks good. Was the first show a promise of many glorious nights to come?
Getting to The Masonic (as the kids call it these days) is no easy task. You’re either driving and paying $30 to park, walking up Nob Hill (and trying to catch your breath when you’re done), or you’re on public transit. This is the way I suggest. Leave the apps alone, and take a cable car up California Street. You’ve been living in this city for years, and I bet you’ve never done it. You’ll be greeted by an impressive stone structure tucked in next to Grace Cathedral and that brownish building with a private club which everyone likes to talk about but no one’s ever been inside.
Tonight, we were greeted by a red carpet, so we knew there was an event going on, but there is no marquee, so as we stood outside waiting to go wait in the line that was Disneylanding its way back and forth through the lobby, the question was shouted out of windows, “What’s happening?” And shouted back … “BECK!”
Beck had just played the First City Festival in Monterey, so this is a quick bounceback. He came on stage in acoustic mode, playing songs from his new record, Morning Phase, and the record it’s most reminiscent of, Sea Change. He explained that he’d been playing festivals all summer, and it was nice to stretch things out a bit. It all sounded lovely, and then it got loud.
There’s been talk about Beck dancing again, and he does give it his best shot, but his moves aren’t quite as good as they were in the Midnite Vultures era, but then again, neither are mine. Even so, we all tried dancing from “Devil’s Haircut” through the end of the show, as he kept it upbeat from that moment on. After a very loud and very fun “E-Pro,” though, the main set was over. Beck put some crime scene tape in front of the stage and walked off.
He started the encore with an extremely long intro that became “Debra,” which he said he was playing because he heard the Bay Area enjoys slow jams. Well, we do, but we also have the internet and know he’s been playing It regularly in recent days. A very long “Where It’s At,” complete with band introductions, followed, and then the all-too-brief show was over.
This was not the going-through-the-motions Beck of 5 years ago, but it’s still not quite peak Beck. His songwriting and album work has never been stronger, but his live show stopped being essential some years ago, and still hasn’t come back.
As for The Masonic, it’s already the best venue in town if you only care about the show itself and not the amenities (as you should). The sightlines and sound are excellent from everywhere, the seats are comfortable, the stage is large and the floor is well laid out. The amenities are another story altogether, as most of the bars are outside the venue, there aren’t enough of them, so they have long lines. Some of the water fountains don’t work, and there are no bathrooms on the main floor. You need to two wristbands and a handstamp if you’re on the floor and want to drink – that’s a bit much.
Most of these things are fixable – some will take some creativity, others a plumber – and in a few months it will all run smoothly and I won’t remember what the heck I was complaining about. The Masonic is definitely a destination venue, and I wouldn’t hesitate to see anyone there.
They also gave out posters, and who doesn’t like a poster?
The Golden Age
Heart Is a Drum
Asshole (snippet, played by request)
Think I’m in Love (with “I Feel Love” ending)
Soul of a Man
Where It’s At