Beck, Islington Academy, London

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The Independent Culture

There were hot gigs all over London last night - notably Bright Eyes at the Astoria - but Beck was the must-see show, the one that dragged all the Nathan Barleys over from Hoxton for the evening.

There were hot gigs all over London last night - notably Bright Eyes at the Astoria - but Beck was the must-see show, the one that dragged all the Nathan Barleys over from Hoxton for the evening. Some of them even looked up from their mobile phones for a few moments when Beck arrived on stage with his current band.

The band are a motley bunch featuring an Afro-haired drummer who has the chunky breakbeat sound down pat, a bassist whose subterranean funk grooves rattled everything not safely nailed down, and two other guys whose brief stretched across keyboards, harmonica, percussion and, in the case of the white-clad chap in sunglasses, the occasional energetic bout of jazz dancing - or maybe it was some hot martial-arts moves; who knows? Whatever, he was quite amusing in a Bez sort of manner, wielding his maracas with aplomb.

Beck himself discarded his black jacket and baseball cap after the opening number, "Black Tambourine", settling into his usual T-shirted slacker style for the rest of a set that drew heavily on his splendid new album, Guero. Realising that an entire show of unfamiliar material would be unlikely to win over the audience, he slipped "Devil's Haircut" in early on. But then, he launched bravely - some would say, recklessly - into a seven-song slab of new songs, easing the audience in with "Scarecrow", whose loping funk-blues slipped smoothly into the niche vacated by "Devil's Haircut".

After the maudlin singer-songwriter approach of the melancholy Sea Change, Beck has reverted, on Guero, to the sample-tastic breakbeat stylings of Odelay, stirring all manner of musical flavours into the songs. There's the languid chicano funk of "Que Onda Guero", the sunny poptimism of "Girl", the lolloping bass groove of "Go It Alone" and, best of all, the gently swaying "Missing", rendered here in a manner that downplayed the album version's bossa-nova rhythm. Round about this point, despite the new songs' undeniable charms, someone in the crowd pleaded for Beck to "Play something old!", a demand guaranteed to get short shrift from any questing artist worth their salt.

So it proved. One curt put-down later, Beck launched into yet another track from the new album, before finally relenting and, to raucous acclaim, slipping into the cool electric-piano-and-tambourine groove of "Where It's At", essaying a mad, free-jazz organ break as it built to its conclusion.

That proved to be just a momentary let-up, however, as further new numbers followed in quick succession. It says much for the new material that - lone protester aside - the audience found little untoward about the new songs. And, in the case of "E-Pro", the fuzz-chord anthem chosen as the first single from the album, the warm response suggested that Beck may finally have found the sing-along successor to "Loser", "Where It's At" and "Devil's Haircut".

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