The average rock concert is a primitive affair: a dim room full of dudes in T-shirts making noise. You call this entertainment? For his latest tour, Beck was, as usual, in a mood to shake things up. He thought it would be fun to perform with puppets that look like him and his band.
Designing the puppets, however, proved difficult. “We had prototypes made, these amazing Muppet-style puppets, but they were too cute,” says Beck, worried they’d interfere with his more brooding material. So they tried the other extreme, making dolls like those of the Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, which were eventually nixed as “too scary.” The final choice, stick puppets loosely based on French-style marionettes, are “in between cute and strange,” says Beck.
As the band plays, the puppets do their best to mimic the performance; if Beck whirls his arm like Pete Townshend, so will his puffy doppelgänger. But they can take liberties, too. “As we’ve gone on, I’ve encouraged the puppets to bust out because they can do things we can’t, like fly.” Away from the stage, the puppets go off on their own adventures, which are being filmed. “When we opened for Radiohead,” says Beck, “the puppets trashed their dressing room.” It’s not all in jest, though. “I guess people’s immediate reaction is that this is funny, but we’re hoping for other reactions, too. Nico from the band Air told me that the puppets were very emotional for him.” Beck brings his crew to the Theater at Madison Square Garden on October 18 and Loew’s Theatre in Jersey City on October 21. He’ll also do at least one puppet-free acoustic show in town, at an as-yet-undisclosed dim room on the Lower East Side.