Beck, Brixton Academy, London

Beck to the future
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Beck just doesn't cut it as a loser anymore. Losers don't date Hollywood starlets or wear immaculate white suits, or perform beneath giant white globes with films projected on them. Losers just don't have the kind of wealth and power that Beck has these days. Still, "Loser", the first song on his album Mellow Gold is a work of genius and tonight Beck sings it with overwhelming earnestness.

Fortunately Beck's chameleon status is still intact. With each album, he has always done a stylistic about-turn – Mutations was an introspective, semi-acoustic affair, the funk-inflected Midnite Vultures reflected his growing obsession with Prince. But live he does it from song to song. With nothing new to promote, tonight's set is effectively a medley of his past four albums with a couple of covers thrown in.

He opens the show with a pared-down bluegrass number – just him, his guitar and his harmonica. Later, when the band arrive, there is a fuzzy cover of David Bowie's "Diamond Dogs", though before you know it he is in sex-beast mode, thrusting his hips along to "Mixed Bizness" and leering at the girls. Then there's the swoonsome "Debra", where his voice reaches an off-the-scale falsetto. "It's not east being a diva, you know," he pants at the end.

For a loser, he's a pretty cool dancer too. He slips and slides, walks like a crab and does the splits, all with that same lobotomised look on his face. He even strikes Springsteen-esque rock-star poses without ever making you cringe.

Ironic? Probably not. The rare occasions that you can hear the lyrics over the fuzzy PA reminds you quite how bizarrely Beck's brain must work. "I think we're going crazy/ Her left eye is lazy/ She looks so Israeli/ Nicotine and gravy," he yelps, moon-walking sideways across the stage. For a man who's conquered the mainstream, he's still out-there.

In the past Beck has been criticised for not engaging with his audience. He certainly makes up for it here, dragging half a dozen fans on stage for some dancing lessons. It becomes clear that they can't keep up with their tutor, and after a couple of songs they are shooed away.

Beck has his low-key moments, too. Three-quarters of the way through, the band are ejected and he is left once again blinking into the spotlight with only an acoustic guitar for company.

He meanders disconsolately through "One Foot In The Grave", "Beautiful Way" and others, as the audience grow restless, plainly itching for some glitter-ball funk. Instead they get "Where It's At", the closest a Beck song has ever got to hip-hop. By now, the words are drowned by the roaring of the crowd and, for the first time, Beck looks worn out.