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October 24, 2014

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Writhing Beck stirs them up at Trop

All right, there's a new "Star Wars" film due in less than two weeks ... we all know it. Relax. Breathe in. Breathe out. There's more pressing and equally important matters to consider.

Like Beck. The funk-folk-rock iconoclast played his standard amazing set at the Tropicana's Tiffany Theater Thursday night, confounding even my expectations. His last Vegas show, at the Huntridge Theater, was a triumph; this one was little short of a miracle. "The Phantom Menace" should be half as entertaining, if there's any order to the universe.

Taking the stage behind the wildly profane and funny acoustic duo Tenacious D -- itself a flavor of the moment -- Beck was at once the quintessential Vegas performer and a skillful parody of one. (It's all part and parcel of Las Vegas' lingering post-ironic stage -- Beck at the Trop, the "comedy stylings" of Henry Rollins at Mandalay Bay, showgirls with navel rings, etc.) He seemed as fascinated by his chosen venue as the audience was watching him rock out on a stage normally filled with women in feathers.

"We're not used to the sitting-down thing," he said, after surveying the crowd with binoculars. "It's kinda cool. Usually we look out there and see these Visigoths chewing on each other's thighs."

You could hardly blame them if they were. There's something about Beck's music -- the dizzy pop of "Beercan," the shakers and samba of "Tropicalia," the fist-pumping funk of "Hot Wax" -- that makes people lose their composure. You get up despite yourself, shake your rump, wave your hands, indulge moves that normally wouldn't be seen on a dance floor (again, despite yourself).

And the principal cause of this unruly behavior paces you all the way -- executing James Brown-worthy splits, snapping the microphone cord as if it were a bullwhip, contorting his skinny frame into a sexually charged boogie. He even falls to the stage and writhes around when needs drive him, taking the extra step needed to get the crowd into full thigh-biting form.

Beck has one other gift that makes him such the all-around performer -- a repertoire that Tom Jones would kill for. Show me one other singer who could swing from the delicate folk of "Cold Brains" to the distortion-heavy bombast of "Devil's Haircut" in the course of a half-hour, and I'll show you a mere Beck impersonator. There's a reason that critics and audiences love him: He is truly Not of this Earth. Perhaps Obi-Wan Kenobi dropped him off.

His band smoked, too. In particular, keyboardist Roger Joseph "Shotgun" Manning Jr. -- normally a member of quirky cover band Moog Cookbook -- drummer Joey Waronker and DJ Swamp all gave above and beyond the call, well before they came back for an encore of Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue" garbed in shock wigs and capes.

For those of us who can only imagine the energy that Elvis gave off during his stint at the Americana, Beck's set was a godsend -- a blinding barrage of tough beats, "mad syntax" (the maestro's words) and freaky fringe. It was enough to make one wish for an extended run -- say 12 days or so.

Until "Star Wars" comes out.

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