Before going with the Dust Brothers for Odelay
, Beck worked with a number of producers. First, Tom & Rob from Bong Load (who helped on Mellow Gold
) produced a number of somber songs (such as "Ramshackle
" and "Brother
"). Then Beck hung out with Mario C, the Beastie Boys producer, for some sessions that led to "Minus" and "Erase the Sun
" (and who knows what else?).
"Minus" though had been played live many times before that, throughout 1994 and 1995. It does have a similar "1994" early-Beck sound, as he did write more than a few fast grungey songs back then ("Glut
," "Maximum Potential
," to name a couple). The record is more atmospheric, and nowhere near as fast as when the stage performances.
The song apparently was initially titled "Minus (Karaoke Bloodperm)" as a few early reviews of Odelay
refer to it that way. I'm not sure exactly why the "karaoke bloodperm" was cast aside, but it was eliminated by the time the album was officially released. I'm also not sure where "karaoke bloodperm" comes from or what it means, but it's a nifty turn of phrase.
Lyrically, this song is one of the most ambiguous Beck's written. Nearly everyone has a different translation as to what he's saying, let alone what it means! The lyrics have changed a lot from the early bootleg recordings of it, and perhaps that hasn't helped. The title should be a good indication of the meaning of a song, but with "Karaoke Bloodperm" sounding like free-association, maybe "Minus" was too.
Beck does once again use a lot of lyrics of ruin and decay ("bankrupt corpse," vandals, casualties, "garbage classes"). Looking at one version of the lyrics (from September 9, 1994) where Beck ends the verses with "It's a graduation from their brains" and has the line "turn up the apathy" and seems to mention generation X, perhaps that's where he got the phrase "Minus." Those lyrics almost turn it into a reflection on, yes, the slacker generation (for which "Minus" might be an appropriate title).
The first verse, I'm reminded, is probably in reference to the Fluxus art movement, of which Beck's grandfather was a pioneer. Al Hansen was famous for collages made out of trash and perhaps he was the "janitor vandal." He also tought at an art school in Germany (i.e., "garbage classes with the crutches of force"). This would probably make the "Juveniles with the piles and paste" affected by the "sensation" (art), Beck and his brother Channing. Beck's often reminisced about his time as a child, making his own art under the guidance of his grandfather. I do believe that, more than any musician, Al Hansen was Beck's biggest influence.
Played live 194 times:
June 27, 1994June 28, 1994June 29, 1994August 22, 1994September 6, 1994September 9, 1994December 4, 1994December 5, 1994December 18, 1994July 26, 1995
...and 184 more
Earliest known live version: June 27, 1994
Latest known live version: February 10, 2016
Our listed numbers for "Minus" seem sort of low, considering it's been a song Beck has gone to many times since he started touring. But I guess, some of those early years, we don't have all the sets and it probably was played much more.
1994-1995 Mellow Gold tours - early version
As said, "Minus" was played on stage as far back as June 29 1994ójust two months into Beck's Mellow Gold
tour. The song has the familiar bassline, but different lyrics. The song still has the same arrangement as it would on Odelay
. Beck is probably performing the song for one of the first times ever, and may even be making up the lyrics as he goes. It wouldn't be recorded until approximately a year after this show.
Presumably, Beck and band played "Minus" over the next few months in Australia and Asia, though unfortunately bootlegs from those tours are rare. One recording is from a radio appearance in Australia on August 22. This version is quick and has less punky guitar, but still fits in the same type of usual arrangement. The lyrics are slightly different from June 29, 1994, but not much, so it is a good time to bring up the early "Minus" lyrics (as the excellent sound quality helps)--though all these early live versions do seem to have some minor differences.
Do it like you did when you did it down
Like a casualty with a casual frown
Out on the marketplace looking for peace
A piece of action and a burnt disease
Railway station, tell me the price
A situation ???
Do it like you did when you did it up
Taking a leak into your brother's cup
Pulling some muscle and you hustle the kids
Railway station, get on the train
Generation, it's glad you came
[The first verse is repeated]
On his way home from Australia and Asia, Beck stopped in Hawaii on September 9, 1994, and this "Minus" sounds much more like Odelay
's, though some of the lyrics have changed yet again. The last line of the first and last verse was "It's a graduation from our brain!" He ends the song by shouting it some more: "Hey! From their brain, just a graduation! It's a graduation! It's a graduation from their brains!" This is an interesting change, really, and a weird line. But might it be from where the title "Minus" is derived, the idea of losing something?
Beck consistently returned to the song throughout 1994 and 1995 until he finally recorded it.
By the summer of 1995's Lollapalooza tour, Beck had recorded "Minus" for Odelay
, though it was not to be released for another year. On August 27, 1995, just after Lollapalooza ended, Beck and band performed "Minus" and it is now very much like the one on Odelay
, in both arrangement and lyrics (though Beck usually has trouble remembering them all!).
1996-1997 Odelay tours
Again, our numbers seem to be surprisingly low for the Odelay tours, as we only have "Minus" down for about 25 shows. Maybe it wasn't one of the core regulars, but it was there and certainly many more times we haven't verified. The band for this tour is pretty awesome, and they blast through "Minus" like never before or since. Justin (Showboat) somewhat leads the song on his bass, while the electric guitars squeak and scrape for atmosphere. Joey's drum solo bridge is another highlight. On March 25, 1997, in Raleigh, Beck introduced the song as being about "blind dates at the karaoke bar."
1998-1999 post-Odelay/Mutations tours
Beck took a little break from playing "Minus" here, but it did show up twice in the summer of 1998, and twice in spring 1999.
1999-2001 Vultures tours
"Minus" returned to be played throughout the entirety of the Vultures
tours, as well. The band seemed to really love playing the song. Justin is still the star of the song, and sings back-up as well. Beck introduced the song on March 5, 2000, by saying "This ain't no disco. This is rock and roll! Flying high again!" These Vultures
versions are probably the fastest, and longest (see, May 2, 2000), yet. After listening to a number of these speedy high pace versions on bootleg, it's a shock listening to the almost-tame version on Odelay
2002-2003 Sea Change band tours
Seven shows into the tour with the Flaming Lips, Beck re-introduced a full band version of "Minus" into the set. It was done very fast, as a kind of an electronic punk jam. However, it was infrequent, and they only did it together twice on the first leg, and twice on the second leg (4 out of their 30 shows).
The song remained infrequently in the summer of 2003, as we only have it listed 3 times then as well. Beck's summer 2003 band was rock heavy, and ran through a lot of his rock songs in rapid succession, and I would've expected "Minus" more than that.
2005 Guero tour
We have "Minus" down for 10 shows in 2005, as Beck toured behind Guero
2006-2007 Info tour
"Minus" was played much for frequently on Info
tours, 27 more times. It was also played in the fall of 2007 when Beck went to South America and opened for The Police a few times.
2008-2009 Modern Guilt tour
Beck played "Minus" at about half of the shows on the Guilt
2012 pre-Morning Phase tour
After a few years off the road, Beck returned for about 30 shows in 2012 and 30 in 2013. He played "Minus" around 8 times in 2012, and not at all in 2013.
2014 Morning Phase spontaneous versions
Beck played "Minus" just 3.5 times during his Morning Phase tours of 2014, and interestingly, only one of them was actually written on the setlist. The first time came at the end of "E-Pro," when, as the band descended into feedback chaos, Beck stepped up the mic and sang the first verse of "Minus" out of nowhere. Another time, the setlist listed "Debra (maybe/audible by Beck)" and as the band began "Debra," he shut them down, said he wanted to rock instead, and kicked into a "Minus."
2016 post-Morning Phase
Beck threw "Minus" into a hard rock set he did at a fashion show on February 10, 2016.