“Sorry (July 28, 2013 - Newport Folk Festival)” by Beck

It’s been a little while since I posted a Song Reader cover from Beck himself.  He played a few at each of his shows a month ago.  I have a couple of recordings of some of the shows I can share on here.  But today I’ll start with his Newport Folk Festival appearence, because the sound quality of the recording is so good.  This was an acoustic show with Smokey Hormel on guitar, Jason Falkner on bass, and Roger Joseph Manning Jr. on piano.  Due to the stripped-down nature of the band, their “Sorry” sounds pretty demo-like, very pure, likely very much how Beck envisioned it on the page. 

artist: BECK


“Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard” by Beck

So to close out the Barbican show, Beck performed five Song Reader shows!  The first is this version of “Don’t Act.”  This is one of the few Song Reader songs Beck had been performing prior to this show, so he is more familiar with it and I think that shows.   Before this, Beck’s versions of “Don’t Act” had been minimal–usually drum machine and one or two other musicians only.  But on this night, the song feels more aggressive; a strong rock arrangement.  He is using the house band as backing–they don’t show up in the video I’ve chosen here, but you can see them in some of the other ones on Youtube. 

artist: Beck


As Beck himself has said, “I think you have to keep a childlike quality to play music or make a record”. With the 2002 release of Sea Change, he pulls this off in the subtlest way, while simultaneously making the 2002 instrumental folk breakup album his most serious record yet.  Rolling Stone magazine named it “the best album Beck has ever made” and rewarded the album with their coveted, and extremely rare, rating of 5 stars. Though his previous work has been extremely innovative and well received in their own ways, Sea Change is the first album we see from the punk/hip-hop/folk fusion artist that gives us an insight into this previously mysterious figure. (He still doesn’t tell us about the Scientology stuff though. Seriously, WHAT IS UP WITH THAT?) His 1994 mainstream debut, Mellow Gold, got the public interested in the moppy haired punk kid singing “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?” over a trashy hip hop beat, but nobody at the time expected such a rich and diverse career from the sarcasm coated artist. Listeners were intrigued by a few somewhat personal ballads on previous albums, such as the melancholy “Nobody’s Fault But My Own”, on 1998’s Mutations, but Beck’s albums were still drenched in irony and purposefully comical instrumentation. On Sea Change, the listener very clearly sees that Beck naturally stepped out of his comfort zone, due to the end of a longterm relationship that subsequently left us with this collection of melancholy songs of loss and acceptance. The songs can change an atmosphere completely, drenching a room in the feeling it conveys, which is a sign of true art.

Beck opted out of his normally heavily sampled production and decidedly made most songs acoustic-guitar based with live orchestral instrumentation.  A simple folk ballad can quickly do a 180 with an other-worldly string section being inserted in a chorus. This makes the album simultaneously unpredictable and comforting, a juxtaposition that’s difficult to pull off. It goes from open, distant synthesizer ballads like “Round the Bend”, to tight funk-esque mid-tempo tunes like “Paper Tiger”. The melodies are, at surface level, quite simple, but the instrumentation often juxtaposes the vocals in a way that creates thought provoking harmonies that still have a way of sounding natural. The simplicity of the rhythm and melody points the spotlight to its intended place, which is the personal lyrics and the lush orchestral arrangements.

The album also does an impeccable job of staying intimate while including grand instrumentation and distant sounding drums, harmonies, etcetera. This was achieved by including electric pianos, slide guitars, and warm sounding instruments and vocals, but most of all featuring the acoustic guitar base in almost every single song. These elements combine to create the approachable and warm, yet still intriguing and distant texture of Sea Change. The acoustic guitar gives the listener a sense of the song at it’s rawest point. Being able to picture Beck sitting in his bedroom playing Lost Cause on an acoustic guitar, perhaps shedding a lil tear, makes us feel more personally connected to the music. Another aspect of this personal and comfortable feel was due to the huge focus on the vocals, leaving them unfiltered and mostly un-layered to convey the rawness of the songs. The listener has a chance to hear every single vibration and nuance of Beck’s voice.

The mid to low tempo of almost every song fits perfectly with the mood of the album. Though he could have potentially used downer lyrics disguised in an up-tempo, comical guise, it seemed as though Beck wished to take a break from irony on this release. There are few songs with extremely distinctive hooks, but there wasn’t much of a place for a typical “hit” on the album. The free forms of the songs conveyed the themes of loss, confusion, and eventually acceptance perfectly, because the process of a hard breakup is very up and down emotionally, without a true formula.

This record was truly revolutionary, and put Beck in a more serious category as an artist. Some say that Sea Change showed the world the “true” Beck, but I believe it just portrays how people change throughout life as they experience things, and how fluid that experience really is. Nothing a real artist does should be the perfect representation of themselves as a whole, it should just convey the theme and experience the art is inspired by in authentic way. Beck pulled this off splendidly and executed it perfectly for what it was. Sea Change deserves to be regarded as a classic.

So yesterday, after roughly 18 hours of deliberation, I decided to welcome this big sweet boy into my life. Beckett (given shelter name), is an (est) 18 month old, 79lb, American Bulldog who was found as a stray about a month ago, and was the quietest and most well behaved gentleman in all of the Baltimore county animal shelter. Never in my life have I met such a well behaved and clearly loyal dog; and this is only the beginning! Kira has taken quite well to her new big little brother, and Beck has behaved himself to the highest degree. Prepare for a slight change in dog spam scenery, because this guy won’t leave my side, and I don’t plan to leave his. 😍💕#dogselfies


“Heaven’s Ladder” by Beck & Justin Meldal-Johnsen & Roger Joseph Manning Jr.

Here is the second Song Reader song from Beck’s concert two nights ago in Santa Cruz.  Watching it now, it did come off a bit better than I thought in person.  Beck, Justin and Roger were all playing off the sheet music–you can see Beck constantly reading off the ground.  (They didn’t seem to do this so much on their “Sorry” or “Don’t Act.”)  Musicians have frequently told me this is a complex song, so maybe that’s why; or maybe it was just under-rehearsed.  (Probably both.)  But I can hear now, JMJ is getting some nice bass in there, and the acoustic guitar/piano combo sounds good on it.  I bet with more time, the three of them could really get this one nailed.

Also for the record, Beck played the same 3 Song Reader songs at the event in San Francisco last night.  “Sorry” and “Don’t Act” were with Justin and Roger; “Heaven’s Ladder” was sung in front of an orchestra made of NASA employees (space!).  The event discouraged documenting it, so I’m not sure if any photos/videos/recordings will surface, but I’ll keep an eye out.

(UPDATE: I’m told Beck also played “America, Here’s My Boy” in there!)

artist: Beck & Justin Meldal-Johnsen & Roger Joseph Manning Jr.

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Swimp: Gay Men ‘In Bottomless Pants’ Are 'Literally Trying To Collapse Our Western Civilization’ + MORE

Swimp: Gay Men 'In Bottomless Pants’ Are 'Literally Trying To Collapse Our Western Civilization’


Last week, Glenn Beck became enamored with a group of anti-gay black Religious Right activists who were vowing never to accept the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide. Beck arranged to have one of the leaders of this group, Michigan-based anti-gay activist Stacy Swimp, appear on his radio program today, even though Beck himself is off the air for the month due to health reasons…

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Louie Gohmert: ISIS Right Across The Border


In an interview yesterday with WorldNetDaily’s Radio America, Rep. Louie Gohmert once again pushed a debunked report alleging that ISIS set up a camp on America’s southern border, pointing to a Tom Clancy novel to claim that ISIS may be collaborating with drug cartels.
The Texas congressman said that Republicans shouldn’t have a problem picking up Latino voters since they love God and family, which of course are two things that Democrats hate…

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Mike Huckabee: America Worse Than Sodom After Gay Marriage Ruling


Speaking at a Georgia church’s Independence Day celebration, Mike Huckabee warned a that the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision will soon cause the U.S. to face God’s judgment.
“1975, the wife of evangelist Billy Graham said that ‘if God does not bring his judgment upon this land, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah,’” Huckabee said…

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World media pressured to take 'Islamic’ out of ISIS


(ABC News, Australia) Governments around the world are stepping up pressure on the media to use terms other than Islamic State to describe the extremist group.

British prime minister David Cameron and the Egyptian government have both warned journalists about the consequences of labelling the group Islamic State recently…

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“I’m Down” by Beck

I’m still here!  I just needed a bit of a break after doing this all year long, I guess.  What pulled me out of my break is the announcement today that there will be a Song Reader concert in Los Angeles later this month!  Big stars, Beck will be there, and hopefully so will I!

So where did I leave off?  I guess there’s a couple more Barbican tracks here for you, all starring Beck himself.  He did two solo songs, and I already shared his “Don’t Act.”  He followed that up with this “I’m Down.”  He seems to play “I’m Down” slightly differently every time, and this one feels bluesy and made even more so when he tacks on a slight “One Foot In The Grave” harmonica jam at the end.

artist: Beck

“Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard” by Beck & Justin Meldal-Johnsen & Roger Joseph Manning Jr.

This is the third and final song of Beck’s little set from the PopUp Magazine event on May 20.  (Beck does come back out and sing a song a bit later with another group, which we’ll get to in due course.)  Beck’s harmonica sounds great!  I’m blanking if he played that the night before on May 19 when he did this song or not.  Either way, how can you go wrong with a Beck/Justin/Roger performance?  

artist: Beck

“Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard (live July 2, 2013) - Beck

Beck played an acoustic show in Paris a couple of nights ago, and he performed one Song Reader song.  This is it.  I’m still unclear who the piano and bass players were (if anyone knows their names, please email almostaghost at gmail).  I liked this a lot, Beck seems to be pretty comfortable with this song now; he played it a couple of times in May as well, but this is my favorite version from him yet. 

artist: Beck

Heaven's Ladder (feat. International Space Orchestra)
  • Heaven's Ladder (feat. International Space Orchestra)
  • Beck
  • Beck Hansen's Song Reader - PopUp Magazine Concert

“Heaven’s Ladder” by Beck & The International Space Orchestra

Woo!  It only took me six weeks to get to this one!  The final track from the PopUp Magazine Song Reader event in May.  And it’s a doozy, I love it. 

The International Space Orchestra is an orchestra consisting entirely of NASA space scientists!  “Heaven’s Ladder” clearly is the perfect song for them.  And surprise, Beck sang the song with them!  (And Justin Meldal-Johnsen played bass.)  That wasn’t on the setlist/program, I’m told.  Glorious!

The director of the orchestra Nelly Ben Hayoun (I think, I’m not clear, she doesn’t seem to be a musician, but she introduced the whole project) shared a couple photos.  This is her and Beck backstage, looking at something:

and this is Beck and some of the astronomers rehearsing!

Anyway, thanks again to PopUp Magazine for event, and McSweeney’s for helping and publishing Song Reader, and I wish I had been at this one! 

Now, starting tomorrow, I will move over to London and start sharing the Barbican Song Reader event.  Bigger stars, sure, but will be hardpressed to beat this show.

artist: The International Space Orchestra & Beck

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“Just Noise” by Beck, Charlotte Gainsbourg & Connan Mockasin

Next up on the Barbican show from July is Beck’s first appearence at the show.  It was a surprise, the program just said it would be Charlotte & Connan, but Beck came out and performed “Just Noise” with them.  It is a very simple arrangement, Beck & Connan on guitars, all three singing.  This was the first time Beck performed “Just Noise,” and since this show, he has performed it at all his own shows over the summer.  

artist: Beck, Charlotte Gainsbourg & Connan Mockasin

“America, Here’s My Boy” Beck & Justin & Roger

We’re in Beck’s portion of the PopUp Magazine live show up in San Francisco on May 20.  He did 3 songs, pretty much right in the middle of the show.  His second song was this, the first time he ever performed “America, Here’s My Boy” on stage.  And it’s kind of stunning.  Beck nails the right tone in his vocals (it’s quite a melancholy song), and Roger’s piano adds just the perfect touch for the song.

artist: Beck & Justin Meldal-Johnsen & Roger Joseph Manning Jr.