Beck, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Wittier, warmer, and this time on crowd-pleasing form
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The Independent Culture

Two things inevitably spring to mind when confronted with Beck Hanson's new live show, in which a marionette show mimicking the band's live antics is projected on to the back of the stage.

The first is Dr Teeth, the leader of the Electric Mayhem, The Muppet Show's in-house rock band, the second is Gorillaz, whose Demon Days has been described as an album Beck should have made if he wasn't otherwise engaged.

That Hanson has invented a puppet alter ego shouldn't surprise anyone who has followed the 36-year-old's career. From the bluesy "hick-hop" of 1996's Odelay to the typically diverse sound of his forthcoming album, The Information, Beck has proved himself pop's ultimate magpie.

The Information has been described by Hanson himself as Sea Change conceived as a hip-hop album. And on songs such as "Motorcade" and the Massive Attack-flavoured "Dark Star", there's a sense of Beck confronting contemporary issues, such as Iraq. Not that you'd get any sense of new-found gravitas in this show: Beck is in a crowd-pleasingly puckish mood.

This is not the jetlagged Oscar the Grouch who told one heckling fan to "shut the fuck up" at his last London show and refused to play any old songs. "Loser" and "Devil's Haircut" get an early airings, and the four Information tracks are dispensed with early in the set.

The best of the new songs, "Cell Phone's Dead", is full of the usual Tropicalia flourishes but has a stonking beat that sounds like it's been nicked from Sheffield techno pioneers LFO. The "hip-hop" promise for The Information is also delivered with "1,000 BPM", which is saved for the raucous encore, the rappers all dressed in bear suits. "Nausea" manages an improbable mixture of Madchester baggy and US alt rock, while "No Complaints" sounds like a Psychic TV remix of Space Oddity-era Bowie.

Maybe it's because he was so tetchy last time he was in London. Maybe it's because he's tired of the postmodern detachment. But this was a warmer Beck than we've come to expect. Whether it's the cute pre-encore puppet film shot on Shepherd's Bush Green or Beck playing his guitar with his puppet perched on the end, this is a man who wants to entertain and engage. I think Dr Teeth would approve.

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