Song Reader, Beck’s strangest album, existed only as sheet music until he and a huge team mainly of British musicians gathered here to play it.
Ed Harcourt led the troops from the piano, having attempted this once before in hastier, more shambolic form, at Rough Trade East last December. A house band including jazz drummer Seb Rochford and guitarist Dave Okumu of The Invisible provided some continuity but the approaches varied enormously.
The bowed instrument drone of Ye Midnight Stars, performed by folk singer James Yorkston, made it sound exactly like a James Yorkston song. Guillemots gave a languid beauty to Saint Dude, then Franz Ferdinand did the song again with a jerky funk feel. “Neither of us are wrong,” said Alex Kapranos, not the only performer to seem invigorated by the concept.
The Staves earned a big cheer for their old-timey harmonies, as did Jarvis Cocker for finding his usual sordid drama in Why Did You Make Me Care. Poetry interludes from the likes of Simon Armitage and a hilarious John Cooper Clarke, plus a song from The Mighty Boosh (who roamed free with the lyrics as well as the music) made the evening feel like a festival on fast-forward.
The songs Beck performed himself sounded the most predictable, with acoustic guitar to the fore, though a jazzy, catchy Do We, We Do would have stood out regardless of the singer. For those buying the book in the lobby, it was a case of do try this at home.