"Asshole" is one of the highlights of One Foot In The Grave
, easy. The song itself is special, with memorable lyrics. The recording, though lo-fi, sounds incredible with the harmonies and percussion and bass. (I was not sure who played all these things on this particular song, so I just said they were all Beck in the above credits. For some reason, I get a distinct one-man-band feel here.)
Once, while talking about "The New Pollution
," Beck pointed out how he enjoyed taking a word with a negative connotation, like "pollution," and then using it in a positive manner in his lyrics. "Asshole" shows that he has done this for years. While not exactly a positive song, a song called "Asshole" by a lesser songwriter would likely be angry or bitter, or use the title as insult. Beck has none of that, and eloquently uses the word to reflect the feeling of being used, being made the fool.
Most of the lines mirror this experience of humiliation: from "she took back her love / and put it out into the sun" to the amazing "she dangles carrots / makes you feel embarrassed / to be the fool you know you are." Beck does this while maintaining his own unique way of words (e.g., "question marks stretched across her skin").
Played live 111 times:
September 6, 1994September 9, 1994October 24, 1994October 25, 1994October 26, 1994October 28, 1994October 29, 1994October 31, 1994December 4, 1994December 18, 1994
...and 101 more
Earliest known live version: September 6, 1994
Latest known live version: May 19, 2013
No Beck concert would be complete without someone in the audience shouting for "Asshole" in every break. Whether or not they just like shouting "asshole" out loud in a crowd, or actually like the song, is open to debate. Because of this, however, the song does make frequent appearences in Beck's improvised solo acoustic sets and he usually has fun with it, sometimes changing the chorus around. One night, he memorably sang "She'll do anything to make you feel like a manchild," poking fun at his image in the media. (Just about every review of Beck in 1994 calls him a "manchild" or mentions his youthful looks.)
PUT IT OUT INTO THE SUN FOLK VERSION: FALL 1994
The earliest live versions of "Asshole" were solo folk versions. At both the October 24 and 28, 1994 shows, Beck uses "Asshole" to try to calm down a talkative, inattentive crowd. This gives the October 28, 1994 version a bit of an edge, as Beck scolds the crowd before he starts singing. October 24 had a lot of harmonica between verses, which is great (the album does not have any), but October 28 had none.
HEAVENS ALL WENT DRY ELECTRIC VERSION: DECEMBER 1994 - AUGUST 1995
On December 4 1994, "Asshole" was played with a full band. It's quiet, and reflective, and there is a nice short guitar solo between the verses. Seems like it is still a calming song for the set and crowd. December 18, 1994 is similar.
This arrangement was played sometimes in the summer of 1995 as well when Beck went out with Lollapalooza.
On August 27 1995, the song was still being done with the band. The lead guitarist was on top of it, and the song was really filled out nicely. These band versions of "Asshole" were really cool, and relatively rare, so worth checking out.
THE BIRDS ALL DID FLY FOLK VERSION - 1996-1997
Some of Beck's long Odelay
tour in 1996/1997 included the occasional folk versions of "Asshole," much like in the fall of 1994. August 28, 1996 had the infamous "manchild" chorus, and some cool falsetto at the end. The harmonica showed up sometimes, sometimes not.
BRAINS WENT BLACK ODELAY/MUTATIONS BAND VERSION - 1997-1999
One great band version of the song was on September 6 1997. It was the final show of the Odelay
tour and it was filmed for the Sessions TV show. Smokey Hormel's lead guitar soared, while the rhythm section was very subtle. Good stuff, but Beck has to self-edit himself since this was being filmed for PBS. He slurred through the chorus—"to make you feel like an ohhhhhhhhhhhhh"—which gave the song a unique presence.
A few band versions popped up now and again, most notably on January 10 1999, on the first real Mutations
concert. It fit in well with the songs from that album. Sounds a bit like a slower "Bottle Of Blues," that kind of raggedy country rock song.
CIGARETTES SMOKING BY THEMSELVES BAND VERSION - 2000
Beck opened five shows for Neil Young in the end of September 2000. He played "Asshole" twice there. The first, on October 1 2000, was a sleepy version, while the second, on October 3, was a little bit more bluesy. The slide guitar, which is always a welcome addition to near any song, sounds great on it. These are awesome.
SHE'LL DO ANYTHING FOLK VERSION - 2000 - 2005
The song is still played on occasion, though always solo acoustic, and never as a regular in the set. Sometimes it's part of Beck's acoustic folk medley of songs too. I wanted to note the version on October 24, 2002, which I particularly love. Beck plays it slow and tense and dramatic, and kind of mixes in some fingerpicking with the strumming. It's quite beautiful.
TOOK BACK HER LOVE BAND VERSION - 2009
8.5 years after last playing it with a band, Beck started playing "Asshole" again on his Japanese tour of 2009. Not as bluesy as back then, Beck made the song a bit more psychedelic and trippy (like his current album Modern Guilt
). The addition to the setlist was likely due to the release of the Deluxe version of One Foot
. Welcome back!