Summertime beckons with the call of the road, the instinct to sow the wild oats -- to get out and get your road trip on. That being said, On the Scene went on the road this time around to check out Beck at the new White River Amphitheater in Auburn, Wash.
Millions of dollars were poured into this highly touted outdoor venue, brought to you by none other than Clear Channel Entertainment. The venue sits a manageable seven miles off Highway 18 in the heart of the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation. I arrived all primed for a radical evening of electro-groove rock therapy. The parking setup was highly efficient, with plenty of space for legions of road-trippers. All the buildings on-site were done up in a lodge-type motif with deep rust-colored paints and dark accents. The main ticket gate was adorned with a huge wood carving of a canoe filled with various animals, done in the traditional style of Northwestern Indian art.
Once I was inside the ominous structure, one of the amphitheater's promoters, Karen Donovan, set aside her hectic schedule to give me a quick run-through of the facilities. I got the down-low on the amenities as she expressed her optimism for the upcoming concert season: "It's been great. We had about 10,000 people out here for Heart."
The venue has lined up some pretty impressive shows for the summer, giving the Gorge Amphitheater a run for its money. White River is really geared toward the seated ticket holder and the clientele that can afford to pay inflated prices on concessions and merchandise. If you're in one of the 8,500 seats under a giant steel roof, your view is decent. Unfortunately, the main draw of an outdoor concert -- the being outdoors part -- is a bit lost on this amphitheater. While there's room for 10,000 on the lawn, those attendees catch the majority of the show from 30-by-40-foot video screens. On a high note, there's definitely no shortage of concession stands, and beer (even including microbrews) is plentiful. The main watering hole is a mammoth, 6,000-square-foot lounge called the Canoe Lodge, styled as a Native American pole house. Thankfully, White River also had its bathroom situation under control: The facilities were permanent, spacious and clean.
After my perusing, I headed back to the pavilion as the show started. I quickly grabbed my seat for the Black Keys. This two-piece bluesy, fuzz rock outfit from Akron, Ohio, blew the freshly painted doors off White River. Thunderous drumming from an abnormally tall and lanky drummer and distortion-soaked riffing from singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach made these guys a pleasant surprise. Think Sonic Youth meets the Delta Blues. Certainly worth checking out.
After a quick interlude, Beck came on and shook the place up. His band came out in a feedback frenzy of carefully coordinated Devo-esque dance moves and super-tight-fitting black outfits. Beck cruised through some of his radio hits, including a heavily tweaked version of "Loser" and the crowd favorite, "Where It's At." It was awe-inspiring to watch the master of degenerate white guy electronic soul-groove do his thing. His dance moves were otherworldly. If I had had to go home after seeing only his effortless dance moves, the whole trip would have been worth it. He played an epic set that included two encores and one final moment of brilliance. He and the band returned to stage wearing all-white jump suits covered in white iridescent lights. The wild stage antics flickered and glowed through a raucous version of "Devil's Haircut" that culminated in a freaked-out, noise-infused come-down that left Beck sprawled out on the stage in exhaustion.
This was probably one of the best live shows I've ever seen. Raw and inspired, it made for an intense visual feast that was rivaled only by a sight backstage after the show: an unsuspecting, half-naked Beck Hansen.
Publication date: 06/26/03