Fatboy Slim, Northumbria University, Newcastle

Northumbria University, Newcastle

This summer, Norman Cook - Fatboy Slim - was telling anyone who would listen that dance music was in free-fall. Thus, he said, he had picked up his bass guitar for the first time since his days in 1980s jangly indie-pop band the Housemartins. In a further shift in emphasis, this tour supposedly features Cook's first live performance as Fatboy Slim - which it does, if strapping on a bass for three songs constitutes a "live performance".

Slim appears with Jonny Quality, a Brighton band who appear on Slim's recent Palookaville album, which despite promises of a "rockier" sound is mostly business as usual. Together, they get through Wonderful Night and Long Way From Home, two of the album's most dancey cuts. The punky-funky Push and Shove promises a new direction, before Fatboy makes his way to the safety of the DJ booth and effectively bottles it.

As a DJ, Fatboy Slim will always know exactly what combination of hip-hop and house it takes to move an audience, and he invests the format with his larger-than-life character. He holds up a notice claiming: "I wanna have sex with all of you" - a fearsome challenge coming from someone who, for most of the crowd, is old enough to be their favourite uncle.

Gamely, Uncle Fatboy doesn't let a receding hairline stop him camping it up: he punches the air, waves a scarf and generally leads the celebrations. But there's a sense of celebrating nothing other than the fact that playing other people's records for two hours enables Fatboy to avoid some very difficult decisions. Eerily, the empty triumphalism is most reminiscent of Labour's infamous 1992 pre-election rally, in which a cheering Neil Kinnock celebrated winning the election, only to lose it the following week. Fatboy Slim can still hack it as a star DJ, but the manifesto needs a rewrite if he is to go anywhere else from here.

· At Liverpool Academy tonight. Box office: 0151-256 5555. Then touring.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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