Point/Counterpoint: Beck and MGMT at Dodge Theatre on Monday, September 22

By Martin Cizmar and Benjamin Leatherman Photos by Luke Holwerda

Beck Hansen, live in Phoenix. See more shots in our Beck and MGMT slideshow.

Music Editor Martin Cizmar and Clubs Editor Benjamin Leatherman both attended Beck’s show at the Dodge Theatre Monday night. Here’s their review, point/counterpoint style:

Martin Cizmar: I was just as excited to see MGMT as Beck, but when I arrived at 8 p.m. the guys were almost done with their set. What I did see was pretty lame. Two dudes singing over a backing track while occasionally striking a few buttons on a synthesizer? Not my idea of a good show.

The indie-synth-dance-rock duo known as MGMT.

Benjamin Leatherman: Which makes me glad that I didn’t show up to the Dodge until around 8:30 p.m. after MGMT was off the stage. I feel rather underwhelmed when it comes to the duo of Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden. Rolling Stone may have dubbed them as “artists to watch” in 2008 (and fellated the duo’s latest disc Oracular Spectacular), but there are far better indie-synth-dance-rock bands out there, like Freezepop and the local keyboard wunderkinds of Peachcake.

Martin: Why did Beck open with “Loser?” Personally, I could do without hearing the song – which charted when I was in seventh grade – ever again, but if he had to play it, why didn’t he just work it in to the middle of the set? Beck didn’t seem that excited about the song, which he played almost exactly like the original, and the crowd didn’t go wild over it. It set the tone, but not in the right way.

Benjamin: My section of the audience seemed to be fired up for it (including a foursome of beer-chugging, high-fiving bros seated in front of me). Personally, I happen to dig it when musicians and bands open with their big hits first, like Beck did with “Loser” followed by “Girl.” It allows them to energize the crowd before getting to the lesser-played songs. It also satisfies the chunk of the audience who came out just for the big singles, like the aforementioned frat posse.

Martin: Beck was definitely singing “cyanide girl” not “summer girl” or “sun-eyed girl.” I always thought it sounded like “sun-eyed girl” on the record, but live it was definitely cyanide.

Benjamin: You are, of course, referring to the confusion over exactly what Beck is singing during the chorus of “Girl.” I think it’s kinda like his own personal version of Hendrix’s “’Scuse Me while I Kiss This Guy,” where fans have debated as to what the actual lyrics are. In the liner notes for Guero it simply states “Hey, my…girl,” and Beck himself has been somewhat cagey in declaring what the actual words are that he’s singing. Personally, I feel what you hear in the songs says a lot of what kind of person you are. For instance, if you’re the bright and cheery sort, you hear “summer girl” or “sun-eyed girl." But if you’re some nasty, jaded rock critic, you go with “cyanide” and think the song is about murder. Your mileage may vary.

Guitarist Jessica Dobson, stealing the spotlight from Beck.

Martin: So I’m sure I’ll be accused of being a cad for saying this, but Beck is having this show stolen from him by his girl guitarist. While he’s coyly standing around wrapped up in a coat, scarf and big-brimmed hat, this woman is just taking over a side of the side with great licks and tons of charisma. Her smoky background vocals add real depth everywhere she joins in. What’s more, she’s legitimately out dancing Beck. No one in rock is supposed to out-dance Beck. Research reveals her name is Jessica Dobson and she has a band called Deep Sea Diver.

Benjamin: You are a cad, but I'll definitely have to agree with you on this point. Mr. Hansen was upstaged not only by the smokin’ hot Dobson, but also by the other member of his multi-piece backing band, including Brian LeBarton on keyboards and that hyperactive long-haired freak who was brought onstage to play tambourine during “Black Tambourine.” (They said the dude was from the Valley, but I have the sneaking suspicion he ain’t). Beck, with his shabby-chic threads and longer hair, seems to be gradually morphing into some world-weary troubadour in the Tom Waits vein (minus the sandpaper on asphalt voice).

Martin: Beck’s current single, “Gamma Ray,” really is one of his best. “Think I’m in Love” is also really good. Much of his older material sounded dated by comparison.

Benjamin: Meh. Beck and his backing band added some extra instrumental and new-fangled electronic flourishes to decade-old numbers like “Where It’s At” and “Devil’s Haircut,” which made the songs sound fresher.

Beck and his backing band doing the beatbox thing during "Hell Yes."

Martin: I don’t even know what’s going on with “Hell Yes” – the band has left their instruments and is playing with some little boxes that control samples – but I liked it.

Benjamin: It was interesting to say the least. However, their session with the beatboxes during "Hell Yes" was nowhere as unusual as Beck’s gig at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum back in 2005 during the Arizona State Fair. He and his bandmates sat at a dinner table at the front of the stage and performed a quasi-improvisational acapella number using the dishes as instruments.

Martin: So I know electrifying the acoustic Sea Change songs presents a problem, but the solution is definitely not to lay a thick layer of feedback over “Lost Cause.” One of the most gorgeously wistful songs ever written, and my teeth hurt after hearing it.

Benjamin: I thought it turned out rather well, despite the feedback. It’s kinda hard to mess up “Lost Cause” in my book, especially since it’s a melancholy and emotion-laden song that will always be attached to an old relationship of mine that went sour.

Martin: “Where it’s at” and “E-Pro” are good choices for an encore, but couldn’t we maybe get “Sexx Laws” too, and extend the show past 10:16?

Benjamin: I’ll agree with you that a longer encore was needed. There was a distinctly audible groan from the audience when the house lights came up after the only those two songs. I for one would’ve loved to have heard “Deadweight” (from the soundtrack of A Life Less Ordinary) or more stuff from Midnite Vultures, but I guess Beck had to get back to his tour bus to pray to Xenu, or whatever. Still, “E-Pro” did send the audience out kinda jazzed and happy, as evidenced by the throng of audience members who were singing the song’s chorus as we all walked up the Dodge’s rear stairwell. See for yourself.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.