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Beck and Cage the Elephant Share the Spotlight at FivePoint

It was an artsy kind of an evening at Irvine’s FivePoint Amphitheatre, when the Night Running Tour came to town, on July 17. The line-up consisted of openers Starcrawler and Spoon and headliners Cage the Elephant and Beck. Each of the musical acts embodied performance art to varying levels, which made the showcase almost as much of a traveling carnival as a rock music tour. As the senior artist of the tour, Beck occupied the top headlining spot; however by the time the confetti cannons shot their loads, signifying that the show was over at 11:00 p.m., whether or not Beck was, indeed, the highlight of the evening had become a debatable issue.

Starcrawler (Scott Feinblatt)

When the show kicked off at 6:00 p.m., the 12,000-seat amphitheater was only about a quarter full, and the sun was still shining bright. Then the L.A.-based pop punk/glam/shock rock outfit Starcrawler plugged in and splashed the scene with some heavy color. Guitarist Henri Cash channels a bit of a Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) vibe with his stage presence and musical chops — with a couple dashes of Ozzy Osbourne facial expressions for additional theatricality. He and singer Arrow de Wilde shared the spotlight throughout their half hour set, while Austin Smith (drums) and Tim Franco (bass) focused on playing their instruments. Although her face was concealed by her long hair throughout most of their set, de Wilde’s stage presence was hard to ignore — not because she was scantily clad and rail thin, but more so because of her tendencies to fall to the stage floor, make choking noises, spit fake blood, and hop the barriers so that she could fall down onto the ground at the audience’s feet, literally. Musically, they delivered a fine set of loud, noisy numbers, including their cover of The Ramones’ “Pet Sematary,” which was featured in the film Pet Sematary (2019), and “She Gets Around.”

Spoon (Scott Feinblatt)

One 15-minute intermission later, Spoon took over the stage. These indie rockers have been generating solid hypnotic grooves since the early ‘90s. Although they have never been the hit machine that Beck has proven to be, their often delay-heavy melodies still have the power to win hearts and minds. As for their stage presence, Spoon’s theatrics were much more conservative than those of Starcrawler; that said, they put on a very captivating performance, with lead singer/guitarist Britt Daniel repeatedly raising his axe into the air as he played, guitarist/keyboardist Gerardo Larios leaning over the back of his keyboard to play while inverted, and guitarist/keyboardist Alex Fischel hunching over his guitar to strum up a frenzied maelstrom of haunting delayed rhythms. Highlights of their 45ish-minute-set included “Don’t You Evah,” “I Turn My Camera On,” “The Underdog” and “No Bullets Spent.”

(Scott Feinblatt)

At 8:00 p.m., Cage the Elephant started their set. These alt rockers were definitely the house favorite of the evening. While the five instrumentalist/backup singers of the band started playing “Crybaby” without their iconic frontman, Matt Shultz, onstage, Shultz very quickly appeared, wearing what appeared to be a pith helmet strapped to his head with a pair of black, nylon pantyhose. From the moment Shultz hit the stage, with his pseudo insect-netted headgear, the entire crowd stood up; they would remain standing and — for the most part — dancing for the remainder of the evening. Moreover, as the show went on, and the band churned out a spirited set, the energy of Shultz’s very Mick Jaggeresque stage antics was nearly matched by the enraptured dancing of many members of the audience. As the band made its way through a 20-song set, they dazzled the audience with hit after hit — the crowd singing along with most of it. Their eyes, however, remained glued to either the large black and white video screens that flanked the stage with Shultz’s image, or to Shultz, himself, who spent a good deal of the set wandering through the rows of seats, standing on railings, reclining on the stage, performing acrobatic poses, and stripping off the many layers of garments that adorned his lean body. Watching the teenaged to 50-something audience during most of the show was like watching the audience at a tennis match, as they turned their heads this way and that, trying to keep their eyes on the never-ceasing action. By the time their hour and a half-ish set was over, and Shultz had finished stealing the fire from the rest of the band — who were terrific — and disappeared into the distant reaches of bleachers, Cage had played most of the songs on their latest album, Social Cues, as well as fan faves like “Too Late to Say Goodbye,” “Trouble,” and “Come a Little Closer.”

Finally, Beck hit the stage at about 9:50 p.m.., starting his set with “Loser.” Everything seemed to be going along very nicely. His band — featuring guitarist Jason Falkner and keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning Jr. — was great, the video show was nice and psychedelic, and he was playing hit after hit for about 10 songs. Furthermore, the audience was still standing, dancing, and singing along. However, a noticeable chunk of the audience had left after Cage completed their set, and Beck’s stage presence could not hold a flame to Shultz’s unbound energy. Then, things started to unwind. Beginning with forgetting the lyrics to “Debra,” Beck began a downward spiral that eventually resulted in the mutinous mutterings of numerous audience members. At first, the alternative hip-hop/rock artist tried to create an intimate setting with a stripped down stage show — eliminating his lighting show with the promise that “We don’t need no stinking lasers.” However, after botching the lyrics to “Lost Cause,” the high energy of the first portion of his set never really returned, and this reviewer found himself thinking that maybe Beck does need those stinking lasers. The rest of the show was an awkward mishmosh; some songs worked well, but at a certain point, Beck sat down on the stage and began wondering aloud what he should play next. He then introduced the band and encouraged them to launch into a few different, promising sounding, numbers like “Miss You” by The Rolling Stones and “Once in a Lifetime,” by the Talking Heads. Unfortunately, after a verse or two — or none — those songs ground to a halt, and Beck repeated his, “I wonder what I should play now…” routine. The anxiety of some crowd members manifested in voiced concerns about the dwindling time before the venue’s curfew kicked in, and before long the show was over. Highlights had included: “The New Pollution,” “Black Tambourine,” “Wow,” and “E-Pro.”

Beck finished the show by performing a duet with Matt Shultz on both the new Cage the Elephant song “Night Running,” and a reprise of “Where It’s At” — which he’d played earlier in his set. All in all, it was a wonderful evening of entertainment. All of the bands had shining moments of musical performance and showmanship. Unfortunately, Beck’s reputation for putting on juggernaut shows suffered during his own stunted set, which only lasted about an hour; furthermore, other reports about the shows in this recently-launched tour indicate that the shakey performance the Irvine crowd witnessed was not an anomaly. Here’s to hoping that the inventive musician gets back his groove for his future shows