Beck Plays Surprise Show at Yahoo! Hack Day

When your all-time favourite musician comes unannounced and plays where you work at your dream job, that makes for a pretty awesome day.

All Your Beck Are Belong To Us

Beck: Greetings, Hackers Beck addressing the audience at Yahoo! Hack Day

With Yahoo's "Hack Day" growing closer in mid-September of 2006, rumours were very cautiously spreading that a well-known artist was scheduled to play a show on the opening night at Yahoo! headquarters in Sunnyvale. Given another event called the "Download Festival" was running at neighbouring Mountain View's Shoreline Ampitheatre on Saturday with Beck headlining, there was a logical possibility that he might take to the stage at Yahoo! on Friday night. Having participated in a recent internal Hack Day event myself, I was already interested in checking it out - but this distant rumour pretty much guaranteed my attendance.

When Beck did in fact show up in Sunnyvale on Friday night, he introduced himself and his band saying, "Greetings, Hackers." I think it was clear that we were all in for quite the performance.

Beck and his band put on an amazing show, complete with puppeteers performing a live re-enactment of the events happening on stage; each band member was represented by a matching puppet who mimicked their real-life counterparts amazingly well, and with comedic accuracy.

The show lasted the better part of 90 minutes, and was amazing. I was right up near the front, perhaps twenty feet from the stage, and got a few good photos and some video. Beck went through several personal favourites including live variants of "One Foot In The Grave", "Debra", "The Golden Age" and "Black Tambourine".

There appeared to be an established routine for the show (based on reviews of other recent Beck events) as it opened with a puppet re-enactment of "Loser" which then became live as the band joined in and carried through "Mixxed Bizness", "Devil's Haircut" and other hits. Crowd favourites such as "Where It's At" were covered, the thrash-influenced "Minus" was laid down after Beck noticed and commented on a growing mosh pit up front, and finally things came to a close with songs such as "1000 Beats Per Minute" which had Beck and crew parading around in bear costumes alongside Justin Medal-Johnson ("JMJ", bassist,) in what appeared to be a leather suit and a motorcycle helmet over his afro hairdo.

Hackers Of The World, United

Hack Day was pretty cool, particularly when considering how technical and computer folks are typically stereotyped as being nerdy, quiet and anti-social. The event was anything but. A wide swath of people showed up to create and demo interesting ideas in 120 seconds or less, fueled by music and drinks, with a choice few walking away with awards and notoriety among their peers at the end of the evening. Some great ideas were shown, and I personally met and chatted with a number of hack day attendees, industry celebrities and Yahoo! luminaries. More than a few contact details were passed around, ideas were exchanged, and (I'll wager,) job opportunities were discovered. An impressive amount of media coverage of the event was made, and in true recycling fashion some clips of local news coverage were shown at the judging and awards ceremony on Saturday. Quoting one humorously-received news piece, "It's good to be a hacker, it's bad to be a cracker."

1337 pUpp37 h4x0rz pwN YAHOO

Video: 1337 pUpp37 h4x0rz pwN YAHOO Video: Beck's band, in puppet form, get into all kinds of trouble at Yahoo!

To kick off the opening night of hacking festivities, a video produced by Beck and Yahoo's teams was shown near the end of the concert and left most of us in tears from laughing. It was amazing. The Beck puppets were featured traipsing around the Yahoo! campus, welcoming hackers to Hack Day ("'bout to learn the skills of the tech!", Beck narrated,) and freestyled raps about Sunnyvale in front of an interactive video display.

The humour and creativity shown in this video was pure genius, as Beck's puppet attempted to check his e-mail on a laptop: "Oh what, there's no server, can't find it? Where's it at? Where's it hiding? ... Doesn't anybody work here!?" - [ Shot of Yahoo! employees playing basketball, working out in the gym ]

Beck's puppet, tired of "no servers in this building," eventually becomes frustrated and later is seen looking up some "adult entertainment" on a laptop. This is probably the funniest sole point in the video, and got some of the loudest crowd responses of the evening.

"So are you guys staying up all night?"

Video: Beck and Brian LeBarton after playing at Hack Day Video: Beck and Brian LeBarton chat with Bradley Horowitz and Chad Dickerson after the show.

Beck briefly toured the Hack Day area and saw some of the hacks people were working on; he seems like a musical hacker of sorts as he has previously encouraged fan-generated remixes of his work through his web site by providing samples of his music, and likely appreciated the sort of creative software and hardware-based mash-ups that people were working on through the evening.

Hackers were literally pitching tents outside on the Yahoo! lawn and crashing overnight or were alternately working late hours (some staying up all night) in preparation for the 3:00 PM deadline and start of demonstrations the next day. I caught the tail end of a brief conversation between Beck and some of the event organisers.

All in all, it was indeed an awesome day.

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