Charging right out of the gate with "Devil’s Haircut" and "Loser," two of his best-known songs, Beck and his six-piece band seemed at first as if they were pitching this headline set right down the middle. Still, he dared ask, as he pondered the phrase "Austin City Limits" with the crowd: "What IS the limit? Something tells me we might find it."
They spent the rest of the night seeking it, bouncing from techno-centric dance tunes to unabashed pop numbers to more tuneful, reflective fare and even a heavy, string-driven dirge. By the time they reached the volcanic "E-Pro" about an hour into the set, Beck found it necessary to cordon off the stage with yellow "crime scene" tape, playfully fearing that they’d gone way past the limit. And that was even before they pulled out a banjo in the encore.
Eclectic, one might say of Beck’s approach. Schizophrenic, another might suggest. Still, most of it worked on this night. Even when he dramatically shifted from more upbeat hip-hop and pop material eight songs into the set in favor of the much more melodic folk-rock of "Blue Moon" and "Lost Cause," he seemed in his element. About the only wrong turn was an ill-advised attempt at falsetto-style blue-eyed soul in the encore.
He recovered promptly with an extended version of his signature tune "Where It’s At" that included very deserved introductions of each band member: guitarists Smokey Hormel and Jason Falkner, keyboardist Roger Manning Jr., multi-instrumentalist Gus Seyffert, bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen and drummer Joey Waronker. Giving each of them a short solo prolonged the jam perhaps a bit too much, but it was part of an all-inclusive stretch to the finish in which he also took a moment to discuss how he’d first visited Austin on a drive here with his college roommate more than 20 years ago.
"It’s always been one of my favorite cities," he said, though he acknowledged that "things are quite different now. But the music has always been here. You can’t keep the music out of Austin."
Certainly not this weekend, you can’t.