Beck doesn’t often perform in western Massachusetts. In fact, the last time he played a show around here was in May 2003, when he squeezed into the Iron Horse in Northampton for a warm-up gig a couple days before officially kicking off the non-Flaming Lips leg of his “Sea Change” tour in Boston. Beck returned Tuesday, playing to a sizable crowd in Joe’s Field at Mass MoCA in North Adams.
“I can’t believe you all came,” he told the audience, which was packed in all the way back to the food vendors and merch tent at the far end of the field. The singer showed his gratitude with a “semi-long set” of songs that showcased the full breadth of his creative impulses and experimental tendencies, while leaning a bit toward material from “Sea Change.” There was good reason for that: Beck’s backing band on this tour is the same group of musicians who played on that album, and on his latest, “Morning Phase.”
He was an active presence onstage, roaming around with the mic and waving his hands in the air when he wasn’t playing guitar, adding to the energy that rolled into the crowd on uptempo tunes including opener “Devil’s Haircut.” The early part of the set was like a revue-style tour through his past few albums: He played “Black Tambourine” and “Que Ónda Guero” from “Guero,” “Think I’m in Love” from “The Information” and “Gamma Ray” and the title track from “Modern Guilt.” He didn’t skimp on older tunes, either, slipping from “Novacane” into “One Foot in the Grave” early on and placing “Loser” right in the middle of the main set, urging the crowd to sing the refrain. “Nice one,” he said afterward.
The superlative band, with Smokey Hormel and Jason Falkner on guitar, rumpled the album arrangements into different shapes live, adding a big, bouncy piano vamp to “Modern Guilt” and rumbling through the spy-surf “Gamma Ray” like a finely calibrated race-car engine. Songs from “Sea Change” and “Morning Phase” weren’t as subdued onstage, with atmospheric background noise washing around the acoustic guitars of “Lost Cause” and the band adding muscle to the somber ballad “The Golden Age.”
Beck got looser as the show went on, rolling through “Summer Girl” before jumping into the slacker-rap song “Hell Yes” and then ending the main set with a jumped-up “E-Pro,” which he dedicated to the “rigorous” people he saw at a recent My Little Pony convention that was taking place in the hotel he was staying in. His encore included the soul-drenched ravers “Sexx Laws” and “Debra,” along with his 1996 single “Where It’s At.”
Sean Lennon’s band Ghost of the Saber Toothed Tiger opened the show with a half-hour set that included a cover of Syd Barrett’s “Long Gone.”