I’ll still tune in to hear anything Beck does – he’s clever. I like him. But the hot streak was 1994-1999. Anything he did then was magic. Magical. It nestled in with your Beastie Boys and Nirvana and Sonic Youth albums but it wasn’t like any of them. You could see he had spent time listening to Prince and James Brown and also Leadbelly and Bob Dylan and – well – damn near all points in-between.
And so – I would argue – right at his peak he came to Wellington. Town Hall. Best venue in Wellington? I would say so – easily. And it was the summer holidays. We snapped up tickets. It was a pretty good run of gigs actually – Ben Harper, back when he was worth seeing as a live act, didn’t matter about his albums but he had a good band and gave you a good night. And Radiohead. And in the middle of all that Beck – one of the best gigs I ever did see.
But that’s not what’s actually important. What was important was everything leading up to and around the Beck concert. Long before we ever saw such things – it was like the movie The Hangover (the first one, not the crappy sequels) crossed with Entourage. Okay, the student-budget version. We’d go to KFC on a Wednesday and take empty drink containers – flasks, old coke bottles – and fill ‘em up at the drink-station, our pre-mixes for the weekend. Weekend arrived and our spirits were never flat – even though the spirits we drank were served with flat – old – coke. Like that mattered. It was free! Fuck yeah!
So the night before Beck – he played a Sunday as I recall – we had a friend’s 21st. It got a bit ugly, student shambles, people (I mean me) pissing in washing machines and turning it on. People (I mean me) stealing soft toys to take to the pub to give the owner because a certain person (again, me) might have skipped town on a bar-tab for a coupla months.
Woke up the next day to find the familiar – a mule had kicked me in the head, a bird had shat in my mouth – and so there was only one thing for it. We loaded up the car and went to the zoo. We did some spots first. Finished off leftover drinks.
On the way to the zoo – Sunday morning coming down – we saw a guy fall/get pushed out of a car. The car was in front of us and it was like everyone in our car shared the same hallucination. A guy rolled out of a moving car – but where did he go to? He just seemed to disappear.
At the zoo we smoked a joint in the lion’s den. Just because. I go to the zoo these days on average around once a week. I push a pushchair when I’m in the zoo. We always go to look at the lions and I sorta half-snigger/half-wince at the thought that 15 years ago or whatever I thought I was cool for having a toke in the zoo. Still, I can’t have been the only one.
So we leave the zoo and home for some beers – it’s the middle of summer and life can always be put on hold. The world is our oyster-sauce. There’s always something to dip.
Another haze of smoke fugs up the flat and then me and one of my mates are off down the road, that stoned shuffle down the stairs and into Wellington central, to see Beck. To see Beck! We love him! We have Mellow Gold and Odelay and One Foot In The Grave. We have Stereopathetic Soulmanure too.
The gig starts with a local DJ and it’s big bass booming sounds and my mate is flipping out. He’s stoned big time and this is our student-budget version of when the bats swoop in parked up on the side of the road about to enter the desert. He goes, “oh my god, Godzilla!” and points to the roof of the Town Hall. He’s seen the trailer for the upcoming Godzilla film (by Roland Emmerich) so many times and it’s rotted his brain. Absurd though it is he, momentarily, is expecting that big scaly foot to come crushing down through the roof of Wellington’s Town Hall kinda ruining the Beck gig. But that doesn’t happen, of course. And so the DJ spins some tunes and sets a mood…
The gig isn’t ruined. We are. Oh, but it’s wonderful. Right on.
And then Beck comes out with band. Suited and booted, these guys are just fucking incredible. And Beck does the Prince splits and the James Brown fake walk-off with the cloak over shoulder, a hype-man helping him out. He does a harmonica foot-stomper (One Foot In The Grave) and all those big, big hits – like Devil’s Haircut and Where It’s At. The encore was fucking insane – all this mix of Kraftwerkian beats with brittle stabs of guitar. Robot dance moves and costume changes. Goddamn this was a show!
And we were up in the circle, pretty much front row upstairs, looking down on all this magic – wide-eyed with wonder and blissfully (still) hung/stoned. And it was the best. The best sort of buzz that can only be right at 21 or 22 with no fucking cares in the world and the best concert ever happening right then right there.
After the gig we meet up with some mates, one of them does some work at one of the local movie theatres and he takes us in, after close and shows us a cut of the then still-to-be-released new James Bond film. We light up durries in the theatre; feet on seats – we were fucking kings! Then home for a cocktail of whatever was left and a sleepover screening of El Mariachi. Ashtrays toppled over onto the floor and it’s about 3am or 4am before I finally call time.
It was Entourage man. It was Entourage. Okay, we didn’t get lap-dances from b-movie hopefuls while driving convertibles and sipping on Grey Goose – but we craved a different kind of buzz. (We weren’t caught up in that love affair).
I’ve had a few best days ever, a couple that stick out straight away: marrying the most beautiful person I’ll ever know, my best friend, my saviour – pretty much. And holding my newborn son just moments after he entered this world. They’re not really going to get much in the way of competition.
There have been a few Best Gigs Ever. As readers of this column – if that’s what it even is? – will know. But I tell you a close contender for the Best Gig Ever and maybe the bronze medallist in the Best Days Of My Life was my student-loan Entourage daze: a stolen guitar and some beers in the sun, cones in the park, movies after dark and a Beck concert to frame it all – and right while that guy was at the height of his powers. Looking back we kinda thought we were too.