Previous area appearances by Beck demonstrated two things: the Los Angeles singer-songwriter is constantly reinventing himself, and he knows how to rock a party.
In 2014 at MASS MoCA, he turned a grassy field at the contemporary art museum into a beach-blanket party with his versatile band that veered effortlessly from electro-pop to white-boy soul and slinky disco.
Further back, at his 2003 performance at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Beck went futuristic, commanding space-age effects, synth-pop keyboards and robotic moves recalling the experimental art-rock of Kraftwerk and Devo.
For this return to SPAC 19 years later, Beck started with the same song: “Loser,” his breakout tune, a ’90s novelty hit for the slacker generation. Long ago he learned to fully embrace the song’s popularity by making it his opening number.
Beck opened this SPAC show standing on a riser, strumming a twangy guitar, in front of an all-knowing eye projected on a video screen behind him. The 49-year-old frontman looked a bit like Andy Warhol, with his slight body, blonde hair, pinstriped suit and dark sunglasses.
“Let’s pretend it’s not a Monday night… it’s an eternal perfect summer,” Beck said to the large crowd before “Up All Night,” a dance-pop tune from his 2017 Grammy-winning album “Colors.”
Multi-colored prisms and psychedelic pop-art flashed on the backdrop for the glitch-pop of “Girl.” The Spanish-riffing “Que’ Onda Guero” was an ode to his Los Angeles neighborhood.
He revisited the disco-funk and comic R&B of 1999’s “Midnight Vultures” album with “Mixed Bizness” and the Prince-name-checking, tropical-oil-referencing erotic jam “Debra.”
He shook a tambourine on the irrepressible “The New Pollution” while “Devil’s Haircut” was a crunching rocker.
Beck said hello to his mom in the audience before the somber ballad “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime,” which he said was about the importance of appreciating loved ones. Oversized balloons flew through the air on the hard-riffing set closer “E-Pro,” and he returned for an encore featuring “Pump It Up,” an Elvis Costello cover (with vocals sung onstage by Beck and Spoon vocalist Britt Daniel) and signature party-tune “Where It’s At.”
The encore also featured “Night Running,” a dub-influenced recent collaboration between Beck and Cage the Elephant, who co-headlined the tour.
As good as Beck was, it was hard for him to top the energy and spectacle of Cage the Elephant, who were propelled by a set of bristling tunes and the over-the-top showmanship of animated frontman Matt Shultz.
Shultz started the show in a slouchy trench coat, straw hat and face mask — looking a bit like an alien bee-keeper — and progressively shed layers of clothes throughout the night until he was down to a nude body suit and red satin gym shorts by the end.
Shultz has studied a form of Japanese modern dance called butoh, and he moved like an interpretative dancer, stalking and slinking across the stage with herky-jerky motions on some songs, while on others he channeled Mick Jagger with a stunningly smooth swagger.
Cage the Elephant had a set filled with highlights, including “Cry Baby,” “Spiderhead,” “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” “House of Glass,” “Broken Boy,” “Shake Me Down,” “Cold Cold Cold” and “Teeth.”
Shultz ended the group’s set by climbing chairs, with the assistance of fans, to the back of the amphitheater as Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blared overhead. He then crowd-surfed to get back to the stage, with fans passing him hand-over-hand above their heads.
Just after 6 pm, Sunflower Bean took the stage. The Brooklyn band, led by exuberant frontwoman Julia Cumming, had a hard-crunching sound and appealing songs like “I Was a Fool,” but couldn’t match the crisp propulsion and razor-sharp precision of Spoon, whose too-short set included burners like “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” “Underdog,” “Hot Thoughts,” and synth-heavy “Inside Out.”