"Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997" is certainly one of Beck's classics. Over some really lovely guitar playing—influenced by the Delta blues—Beck sings a droning, hypnotic melody, and some personal lyrics.
The words of the song seem to be quite personal. It is extremely reminscent of this quote from Beck in one of his earliest interviews (Flipside Magazine, 1993):
I met this girl and she was moving out to LA and I followed her along. We spent only a week in LA. I later followed her to Washington (state). We got this drive away pickup. I remember it took us a week to get to Washington. We ended up on this little island. We would sleep in this truck for awhile. It was summer so it was warm at night. Then we got this little house across the street from this Xmas tree farm. It had this shack with this Santa inside it. I got this job washing dishes. It was this dinner place, it was a shitty job. It was a bakery too. So I had to clean out these big old 5 foot high tubes of dried flour. My girl friend got this job working at a convalescent home. Then one day she just ran away back to New York. After that I ended up just kind of going back to LA.
The first verse is standard Beck fare, as he again sings about his soul sucking job. "I was born in this hotel... trying hard not to think" really expresses the mundanity of life "washing dishes." It goes well with the following track on Mellow Gold
"Soul Suckin Jerk
" where the main character rebels and runs away from the job. The spoken bridge in the middle mentions the girl and the convalescent home, who apparently would've preferred a sports car over their pickup truck.
But despite this struggle at work and with the relationship, Beck seems to have enjoyed Washington: "I will live here forever with the ocean and the bees" and "I'll be lonesome when I'm gone." He expressed as much in another interview at the same time (Fiz Magazine, April/May 1994), when asked where he would go if he could go anywhere. "I really dig Olympia [WA], ?cause they?ve got the whole nature thing going on. You can check out all the beautiful aromas and at night you can punk out to a totally freaky, crazy, heavy band. There?s a lot of punks and a lot of soy milk. People like to freak out, but drink soy milk. It?s great," Beck said.
On August 17, 2002, someone in the audience asks Beck what the song is about after he played it, and his response was, "It's about being stuck on an island."
Played live 32 times:
April 20, 1994June 17, 1994June 27, 1994September 1, 1994September 6, 1994September 9, 1994October 28, 1994November 5, 1994November 26, 1994November 28, 1994
...and 22 more
Earliest known live version: April 20, 1994
Latest known live version: November 1, 2006
Never a song Beck played every night, but "Whiskeyclone" does pop up sporadically.
1994 MELLOW GOLD TOUR - early months: grunge
The earliest live performance I have heard is from June 27 1994. It was a fairly good rock version, not nearly as bluesy as the song would become a few months later. Beck and his band tended to do everything as grunge back then anyway. Chris Ballew added some nice slide guitar over Beck's riffing.
1994 MELLOW GOLD TOUR - later months: punk blues
The live versions on September 6 and 9 1994 of "Hotel City" (as Beck usually refers to it) are a couple of the greatest live performances any of his bands have given of any song. I'm quite taken with them (if you couldn't tell). Chris Ballew, on slide guitar, plays the amazing riff over and over. The song is calm and mellow, but with little moments of power like when it builds into the chorus. The whole arrangement seems to fit the song perfectly. It is tender and devastating and sad, but still mixed with energy and life.
In fact, the song became a fairly regular centerpiece of his sets throughout the fall of 1994. It doesn't always hit the brilliant heights it did on the September 6 and 9 shows, but it's a wonderful summation of Beck's own style of blues -- a good mix of old and new sounds, blues and rock genres, emotion and skill. Sometimes it thunders and rocks, other times it's more contemplative, all within one performance.
1995-2000 - Lollapalooza / Odelay / Mutations / Vultures
The only time "Whiskeyclone" was played for these 6 years was in 1995 on Lollapalooza, at least a couple of times. Lots of setlists from the Odelay
tours in 1996 and 1997 are missing, so it is possible the song could have shown up once or twice then. But as it is, none are known about, so I'd guess it wasn't played. It was definitely not played on the Mutations
One time in 2000:
"Whiskeyclone" was finally brought back on the second of two nights Beck did in his own backyard, at the Wilshire Theatre, in Los Angeles, on October 25 2000. Not sure what made him dig it back up, but it's an excellent song that deserves some play. I am not sure what arrangement this took, whether it was with a band or alone.
2001 Summer tour:
On his June/July 2001 tour of Europe, he played the song four nights in a row and then dropped it again. The version from June 29 2001, is a very calm, but dynamic full band arrangement. The middle section about squirrels is not done, Beck just lets the slide guitar play.
2002 Solo versions
Beck only played "Whiskeyclone" once in the twenty-night tour of August 2002. Unless the 2000 version was too, this was the first solo acoustic version of the song of which I am aware. On the next tour with the Flaming Lips, Beck did the song again in his acoustic set once on October 22; however, I believe it might have been part of a medley and not a full-on version.
2003 Solo tour of Europe
One more arrangement of the song came in Paris on April 22 2003. It was a solo tour, but his French friends, the band Air, joined him as back-up! They added keyboards and guitar to Beck's guitar and vocals. Excellent version, if a little under-rehearsed. Apparently Air asked Beck to do this one... they have great taste!
2006 Whiskeyclone.net version
OK, so I'm going to name this version after myself. In 2006, both of us here at whiskeyclone and a number of other our friends/fans went to the Bonnaroo to see Beck play there. It also happened to be my 30th birthday. I humbly made a request of the bass player for "Whiskeyclone" on all of our behalf. He said he'd see what he could do. Imagine our joy when, in the massive Bonnaroo festival crowds, Beck and the band started "Whiskeyclone"! So... yea. That explains why this song showed up a bit in June of 2006. He played it a couple of times later in 2006 too, but I can't take full credit for those. (Or any credit at all, really.)