Beck, while promoting Mutations, was asked what he was reading at the time, and he said Denis Johnson. Johnson has a book called Already Dead: A California Gothic. Beck borrows song titles from all over, so that's nothing new. I have not read it to know if it was an influence at all, or just a phrase Beck liked. Either way, "Already Dead" remains one of Beck's more popular songs from Sea Change (as proved by a surprising number of home musicians who cover it on Youtube).
The story goes that after a bad break-up in mid-2000, Beck wrote much of Sea Change in one very fast burst of songwriting. So naturally, "Already Dead" fits firmly among all the Sea Change songs, as Beck sings about life getting worse with time, the fading of love, and the sadness following behind it. Beck's vocals really match that, the emotion in the way he sings "watching something dyin'" is perfect, one of my favorite Beck moments on record.
Prior to the release of Sea Change, Beck did a 20-show solo tour of the US. "Already Dead" first showed up on stage then, though was only played five or six times.
"Already Dead" made it's live debut on August 11 2002, in Ann Arbor, though it fell apart after a verse. "It's kind of a heavy song, and we didn't want to give it you all at once. We couldn't handle the lawsuits," Beck explained. He then went to his celeste and sang a little song about how the previous song was "fucked up."
The next night in Toronto, they do figure it out and finally premiere it completely. Once again, the version in Philly on August 17 sounds dangerously close to falling apart. But it doesn't, and it works. This song was always led by some beautiful guitar from Smokey.
2002 BAND VERSION WITH THE FLAMING LIPS
Beck debuted a live band arrangement with the Flaming Lips on their tour together in fall of 2002. It was not a regular song, appearing around 10 times of the 35 shows. This version really sounds very similar to the album but for a slightly different drum beat. It's fairly minimal in its attempt and I prefer to hear it as an acoustic folk song, though are certainly versions where it falls into place very nicely (i.e., November 27, 2002).
Perhaps the most noteworthy take of "Already Dead" by Beck and the Lips was on November 14, 2002. It began as a slightly more spirited version, before Beck stopped it and suddenly started singing Radiohead's "Creep."
2003 BAND VERSIONS
After the Lips left, Beck took on a few other bands in 2003. The first was for a short tour in Australia and Japan, though they only do it twice. The March 31, 2003 version--as for many of the songs they do that night--was quite excellent. The rhythm section adds a tasteful touch to the song tonight which makes it stand out to me, compared to other versions.
In Summer of 2003, Beck used a different band to tour the US and Europe. This set was pretty rocking, and "Already Dead" hardly fit what they were doing. They played it three times of their like 40 shows, and I have not heard any of them.
2003 SOLO FOLK VERSION
The first time the song really could be considered a "regular" in the sets was in Europe in April 2003. Beck did eleven shows by himself, and played the song seven times. Always done on solo acoustic guitar, as far as I can tell. I think this way suits the song the best, bringing out the bluesiness. And sometimes he seems to get sort of fancy with it.
Finally, Beck's stop at Coachella in 2004 had another solo version of "Already Dead." Kind of ragged, and out of place to do this sad, lonesome tune at a gigantic festival.
2011 & 2012 TOURS - a few more band versions
Beck never performed "Already Dead" during his Guero/Info and Modern Guilt tours (2005-2009). After those tours, he also took a touring break for a few years, re-emerging for some events and festivals in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, Beck played at the Bridge School Benefit and did perform "Already Dead." Then in 2012, he mostly stuck to festivals, but did do "Already Dead" at one warm-up show in LA, which is here:
Beck did a bunch of short tours in 2013, and at most of the more acoustic-based gigs (i.e., not the festivals), Beck did perform "Already Dead." The first few in early July were all just folk versions, solo acoustic. Then at the end of July, he was doing acoustic shows, but with a band (no drummer) and he played "Already Dead" 5 more times.