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Monday, July 25, 2005


The magical healing power of Beck

Scientologists say that their religion allows them to heal ailments ranging from drug and alcohol addiction to mental and physical disorders. They've long criticized modern psychiatry and claim that "dianetics," Scientology's all-purpose methodology, can cure just about anything that ails ya'. After the premiere of Phenomenon, devoted believer John Travolta, claimed in an interview that he could heal people with his hands and once cured Sting's sore throat before a concert.

While Scientology devotees make no claim that music played by followers can cure ills, consider the following:

There is a sandwich. It is sold in a certain tavern in downtown Portland that shall remain nameless. A few months ago, I ate this sandwich and suffered through a nightmarish bout of indigestion. I didn't learn my lesson. I still head down there and order it every once and a while. Since that night months ago it hasn't given me any problems. But, after eating the sandwich on the night of Beck's July 16th concert at the Memorial Coliseum, a familiar rumbling in my gut returned.

I tried to keep my spirits up and my food down, at the very least not to ruin the evening for my colleagues, who had never seen Beck live before. I felt queasy as Le Tigre swapped instruments and bounced around the stage.

The majority of the band's music consists of pre-recorded samples and the irony of the opening set was lost on most of the audience. At one point, Kathleen Hanna and crew gave up their guitars and keyboards entirely to perform choreographed dance moves. A row of oblivious 30-somethings somewhere behind us shouted taunts across the Coliseum. No amount of eye rolls and glares from the crowd around them was doing anything to quell their sarcasm. If I was going to puke I wondered if I could make it up their seats in time to properly critique their criticism with a blast of regurgitated sandwich.

Le Tigre closed out their set with an "FYR" sing-along that left most of the audience scratching their heads and checking their watches. I downed a $4 Coke during intermission, hoping it might shut my gut up. No dice. If only I had paid more attention to all those cautionary bulimia videos during high school health class.

I headed back inside, unable to throw-up, unwilling to throw in the towel and completely incapable of eating the $39 + handling charges it cost to be there in the first place. If I was going to embarrass myself I figured I may as well do it within close proximity of a bathroom instead of a crowded MAX train. Plus, if I puked it might start a chain reaction ala that scene in Stand By Me. "Regurgitated Sandwich Starts Puke Riot at Beck Concert" might have been the above-the-fold headline in the July 18th edition of the Oregonian. Maybe Beck would even write a song about it.

Five minutes later the lights went down, a curtain fell and Beck strolled out in front of a projected starscape. As his band tore into the opening riff of "Black Tambourine" something amazing happened. My nausea suddenly disappeared. There's no accounting for why or how this happened. Maybe it was the soda. OK, fine, it was probably the soda. But maybe, just maybe, I was cured by...SCIENTOLOGY!

According to this article, Beck was born into the religion. He attended a Scientology-run school and took further courses as a teenager. A few years back he was "outed," drawing subsequent criticism from the press and causing two members of his band to call it quits.

I felt fine as Beck rolled through "Devil's Haircut," "Girl" and "The New Pollution." The show was much like the "Midnight Vultures" tour that landed in Portland in August of 2000. After bum-rushing through highlights from a decade worth of songs and covering Nelly's "Hot in Here," the lights lowered and Beck grabbed a harmonium for "Golden Age." It was one of those tender concert moments that people recall years later or least send them searching for their lighters.

Later, Beck broke out a guitar and began an improvised acoustic set as the band carried a dinner table out on stage. As they slurped soup, he played segments of "Truckdrivin' Neighbors Downstairs," "Debra" and a Portland-themed cover of "Purple Rain." The band provided occasional percussion with silverware and glasses.

During "Where's It At," a giant boom box dropped from the rafters and members of the crowd were ushered on stage. As Beck's set drew to a close I started feeling lousy again. After the lights came up the nausea had returned in full force. While Beck's music had apparently cured my stomach ailment it was only a temporary fix. I called it a night, headed home and spent the rest of the night moaning like a wounded animal in front of Police Academy 2.

So there's only one conclusion I can draw from the concert:

Sandwiches = evil. Scientology = not so evil.

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