Beck, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

In the 10 years since the success of Odelay turned him from an angelic cult hero into a bona fide pop star, Beck Hansen has made a career out of assuming and discarding identities. The hip-hop Dylan has become an assiduous male Madonna, his intoxicating mix of blues, country, electro and rap allowing him room to explore the delights of sexually charged funk as easily as the lows of broken-hearted introspection.

Adept at pulling the strings of critics and fans alike, his new guise, as a live-action hero performing alongside an old-fashioned puppet, seems appropriate. Next to the equally soft-featured, puppeteer-operated figures of his band, "mini Beck" opens the show, his mouth moving to the strains of breakthrough hit Loser, his hand "playing" a guitar.

Replicating the moves and appearance of the band, from Ryan's break-dancing to bassist JMJ's tight, black leather jacket, the image of "our little friends" - as Beck calls them - are projected on to a big screen and directed so skilfully that the real thing, also on stage, hardly warrants a second glance. Beck, the human version, is an enigmatic figure hidden beneath a trilby hat, but the rest of the band bounce around him like excited puppies, dashing between the banks of keyboards, decks, guitars and percussion instruments.

Alongside favourites including Where It's At, Devil's Haircut and a roof-raising E-Pro, material from his upcoming album The Information, due for release in October, gives them ample reason for such enthusiasm. Beck has hinted that he is returning to the beats, samples and scratches of his past, and Cell Phone's Dead sees him rapping persuasively against electro rhythms and carnival percussion. 1000 BPM is a trashy coupling of rock'n'roll and dance, while the Stooges-like Nausea seethes with low vocals and sharp riffs.

The quiet moments are equally startling. While the band sit at an upstage picnic table eating salad, Beck cuts a solitary figure, tracing the tenderness of Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime and the isolation of Hank Williams's I Heard That Lonesome Whistle. A spirited acoustic take on Clap Hands is accompanied by the sound of cutlery thwacked against plates and glasses, and the Brazilian-flavoured Tropicalia has a similar gang mentality and sense of fun.

"Shepherd's Bush," Beck muses, looking appreciatively around his surroundings. "Where shepherds dwell." Despite his aloofness, and the awe he inspires among the crowd, even people on the balconies are forced to their feet by the end, as he shepherds us safely through the familiar and into unknown terrain.


Betty Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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