The whole recording of "Pressure Zone" is one of the highlights of Midnite Vultures
. Beck was proud of the "Cars-style blueprint of an alternative rock song" (CMJ Music Monthly
, Nov. 1999). Justin Meldal-Johnsen said in an interview that this song "exploits that sort of angular Brit artrock thing." The music has a surprising number of layers, from sound effects (swords unsheathed, spray cans, etc.) to what Justin called "lots of noise explosions all done on bass, where we overlaid quite a few tracks."
And with it, the images and words are an odd bunch! As is Beck's tendency, he can occasionally get a little wordy. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It's not every artist who can write lines like "masterpieces liquidate in fertile tears" into choruses of rock songs.
The two verses are constructed very similarly. The opening lines ("The countryside is overgrown" and "Cherry gardens feel like ice") seem to be alluding to a problem of some sort. The "countryside" and "cherry gardens" both symbolize paradise, or good, but unfortunately one is "overgrown" and the other "feels like ice." The second lines are also alike—"there's a lighthouse in her soul" and "hazard lights from her past"—in how they invoke a warning sign from a woman, who probably also stands for good.
The chorus though seems to be arguing that this good is harmful for the creative spirit. It causes masterpieces to liquidate, and the artist to sleep for "a hundred years," to be haunted by the past. Hopefully, this though is just a phase.
I don't know if I'm making any sense on this song. I've seen other interpretations of the song which revolve around sex, or masturbation. And that's not a farfetched interpretation at all, though it does seem to ignore most lines for a few innuendo-laden images. Beck's lyrics tend to be quite versatile, especially when he's writing image-filled scenes.
Played live 64 times:
October 6, 1999October 9, 1999November 1, 1999November 3, 1999November 18, 1999November 19, 1999December 1, 1999December 3, 1999December 6, 1999December 9, 1999
...and 54 more
Earliest known live version: October 6, 1999
Latest known live version: August 13, 2003
Beck did play "Pressure Zone" live regularly for a few years, but has since long-dropped it from his repertoire.
1999-2000 Midnite Vultures tours
Beck played a lot of shows on the Vultures tours, roughly 120 if you include the pre-album promotional and warm-up appearances. "Pressure Zone" was regularly done at about half of them (41 times). Most of these were in the early months of the tour too, it sort of drifted into lower frequency as the tour progressed.
The song in my opinion lives better on stage than the record, especially on the later legs (Japan, for one). It is much groovier and has a driving wall-of-guitar-type sound. The riff is sharper, even more angular and chugs along. It's got a lot of piano, percussion, vocals. It just feels more natural and less constructed.
2002 Flaming Lips tour
Beck did two legs of touring with the Flaming Lips in the fall of 2002. A few shows into the second leg of their tour together, Beck and the Flaming Lips dug "Pressure Zone" out of almost nowhere. Beck introduced it by saying the Flaming Lips liked the song, so they were going to play it even though it wasn't one he'd played much before (ed. note - he had). "We hope it sounds like Rick Springfield," Beck said. It's not that old of a song, but it was cool they picked out one of Beck's more overlooked songs to do. It was a fairly faithful rendition however, even starting with the spraypaint effect. There is some new trippy keyboard riffs in there, and some bigger drumming. "This is music to work out at a gym by" was Beck's introduction on November 16 2002. Beck and The Lips did "Pressure Zone" together 12 times.
summer 2003 tours
Beck and his summer 2003 band tried the song on occasion, though it was never a regular. They did it 11 more times.
It has not been played since 2003.