16 February 2013

Beck + Sound + Vision

Some statistics first of all: Sound And Vision ran for 183 seconds. No human voices were heard for 46 seconds, when the backing singers crooned a two-note descent; no hook for 74 seconds, until Mary Hopkin (then married to producer [Tony] Visconti) provided a deceptively playful wordless chorus. Not until 88 seconds had passed did David Bowie's voice appear, posing a question with which his admirers could surely identify.
- Peter Doggett, The Man Who Sold The World, London, 2011 

That question being, "Don't you wonder sometimes about sound and vision?" Clearly Beck Hansen has been, because he recently performed a powerfully complex interpretation of Bowie's classic track from his 1977 album Low, featuring the Dap-Kings, an orchestra, umpteen guitarists, a gospel choir, Thai xylophones, musical saws, an alpenhorn (!) and even (for some reason) a yodeller. It's certainly not a snappy 3:03 any more though - more like a Thin White Duke-inspired rock operetta.

Beck's nine-minute version is performed in the round like the famous scenes from Elvis Presley's '68 Comeback Special, with the sparkly-jacketed performer at the centre, surrounded by the adoring audience, and the audience in turn being engulfed by the other performers. While the original recording is an unsettling yet technically superb evocation of clubland precision that conveys an inscrutable, glimmering slice of avant-garde art-rock, Beck allows his 21st century cast of over 160 performers to stretch out and offers a compelling chaos that merges into something approaching the euphoria of a truly classic performance.

[Via Public Address]

The grand cover version was proposed and funded by the US car company Lincoln, which is a complete mystery to those of us in this part of the world. Here's how I imagine the negotiations between Lincoln and Beck went:

Lincoln: Hi Beck! How'd you like to record a Bowie cover for us, a car company?

Beck: Er, well I like Bowie, sure - but for a car company? That sounds a bit weird.

Lincoln: How about if we throw in an unlimited production budget, complete artistic control and more money than you've ever seen in your life?

Beck: Where do I sign?

See also:
Review: Beck (et al.) at the Wireless Festival, London, 4 July 2008
Video: Bowie clips 1964-92, 8 January 2013
Video: Beck - Girl (from album Guero, 2005)
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