I've come to think of attending at least one concert on the lawn at Edgefield as a Portland summertime imperative almost as strong as river days. For all the griping we do about McMenamins, they get a lot of things right, and the big-but-not-too-big idyllic outdoor venue is one of them. Last time I saw Beck was in the far less intimate confines of the Shoreline Amphitheatre for the '95 edition of Lollapalooza. I was a big fan of Mellow Gold, but his live show was pretty rough, messy but kind of boring. Fast-forward almost 20 years, and things have certainly changed.

But first, Jenny Lewis opened up with a relatively brief set of her likeable pop/blues/rock ditties. I don't know if I'm discriminating because of her Hollywood roots, but Lewis always strike me as a super-fan playing a part, albeit really well. She has a great, strong and clear voice, and her songs are super good but they seem predictable to me, like they're in tribute to music rather than part of a dialogue that pushes it somewhere new. Nonetheless, she s quite charming and approachable, from her super-frank lyrics (so many drug references) to her zany outfit, bopping happily around onstage. Who would want to stop this unpretentious cutey from cutting loose in lace bell bottoms and a bathrobe when she's having—and making—such a great time? Like when she declared that opening for Beck was like, "a rock 'n' roll dream... for reals."

With her merry band of backup dudes. The one on the left looked like he was sobbing in every shot.
  • Jesse Champlin
  • With her merry band of backup dudes. The one on the left looked like he was sobbing in every shot.

Beck, physically, doesn't appear to have aged much, between his boyish figure and rosy cheeks, but in every other sense he's matured wonderfully. He took the stage with his band—the same crew he recorded the new Morning Phase with—dressed like a very chic Amish boy, shirt buttoned all the way to the neck. He opened with "Devil's Haircut," much to the crowd's delight, and continued to splice Odelay hits into the performance. The live context only reinforced why I never really connected to that record. Even the hits are naggingly lethargic. The extent of my enthusiasm was like, "Oh yeah, I remember this." Cue listless swaying movement. (He did, of course, drop "Loser" three songs in, one of those songs that sounds so standard now that it's funny to think how WTF it was when it came out.)

Though it was his scrappy experimentalism that put Beck on the map, the comparison when he switches too later tunes, especially anything from Sea Change, is stark. There's a lot of nostalgia for his early work, but when the peripatetic clunkiness of his genre mashing smooths out, it's soulful and gorgeous, with just enough of a retention of eclecticism. Morning Phase is magnificent, as good as anything he's ever done, and when the band came together to play a string of some songs off the record it was a good head and shoulders better than the indulgent crowd-pleasers. He'll probably always have to play the old radio hits, but I'd take a set of just his newer material over the mix any day, should the option ever come up.