Kanye West, Manchester Arena

Manchester Arena

Kanye West is not burdened by humility. The best international male solo artist arrived at the Brits with a posse of gold-painted ladies in bikinis. Last year, he proclaimed himself "the closest thing hip-hop has to God". This week, he appears on the cover of Rolling Stone dressed as none other than Jesus Christ.

It would be easy to hate the man dubbed by one US magazine "the most obnoxious and egotistical artist in a genre full of them", but there's a twinkle in West's eye that recalls Muhammad Ali. But even Ali might have balked at West's latest flight of fancy. As the curtains drop, the rapper stands surrounded by violinists in ballgowns, cellists and even a harpist. This is not hip-hop as we have ever known it.

For a glorious 45 minutes, West's alchemy and musical sleight of hand breathe new life into a genre that was dying on its feet before this nimble-footed twentysomething came along. With orchestra and DJ in unlikely tandem, West juggles symphonic soul and futuristic soundscapes. One minute, he's rapping about the minimum wage, the next apologising to his grandmother for forsaking his exams. He is nothing if not unpredictable.

However, halfway in, a succession of gremlins are sent from Satan to test West's closeness to the Almighty. First he keeps "being thrown" by a horn in the front row. Moments later, video screens start to malfunction. West copes by living on his wits: we're transported back to what it must have been like to see him as a struggling rapper. Spontaneously firing off "random songs" from the old-skool hip-hop he's now left behind, he's dynamite. But, unusually, he confesses to "frustration". The show gradually becomes an unscripted but absorbing conquest between West's herculean perfectionism and earthbound failings. During Touch the Sky he comically admonishes the visuals guy ("It's supposed to be sky, but it's dark up here!") but a segue of Ray Charles' I Got a Woman into the Charles-sampling Gold Digger is awesome. As West disappears, the house lights come up leaving the orchestra still on stage, looking stupid. Perhaps "the closest thing to God" is the son of man after all, although the postmortem may be less than holy.

· At Hammersmith Apollo, London W6 (0870 606 3400), from tomorrow until Tuesday. Then touring


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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