DJ Shadow, Astoria, London

How long can you listen to a U2 drum loop and stay sane?
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The Independent Culture

When did you last hear The Shangri-Las' "I Can Never Go Home Anymore"? If you don't own it, just buy their Best Of (it's usually £2.99 in your local newsy or 24-hour garage). It's best listened to alone, in total darkness. Turn out the lights, draw the curtains, lie down, press play and bear witness, in a mixture of terror and awe, to the power of popular music to affect the emotions at its very apex.

When did you last hear The Shangri-Las' "I Can Never Go Home Anymore"? If you don't own it, just buy their Best Of (it's usually £2.99 in your local newsy or 24-hour garage). It's best listened to alone, in total darkness. Turn out the lights, draw the curtains, lie down, press play and bear witness, in a mixture of terror and awe, to the power of popular music to affect the emotions at its very apex.

I think of this tonight as DJ Shadow spins his new single, "You Can't Go Home Again", whose title references, wittingly or witlessly, the Shangri-Las' classic, but whose grooves possess none of its emotional force.

The Mo'Wax mentality has always been to create music which seeks to impress the head rather than to move the heart or body (I'll never forget DJing a club in the canteen of the Reading Rivermead Centre after a day at the festival, while James Lavelle and co worked the main hall, and watching the crowd flooding away from his morose, slug-paced stoner tracks and towards our cheery disco classics).

Tonight, before he's even dropped a beat, the undisputed figurehead of Headz Culture makes us watch Keepintime: Talking Drums, Whispering Vinyl, a 12-minute film by his friend and video director B-Plus, which brings three legendary jazz/funk drummers (Earl Palmer, Paul Humphrey and James Gadson) together with three contemporary DJs (Jurassic 5's Cut Chemist, Beat Junkies' J-Rocc and Dilated Peoples' Babu) for a generation-gap jamming session. The closing section, in which Humphrey and Cut Chemist imitate each other's rhythms on their respective instruments, is wonderful – a rhythmic version of the duelling banjos scene from Deliverance.

Shadow, still without having spun a deck in anger, then gives us a seven-minute deposition on what he's going to do and why. It's like a university lecture, only with more "shit" and "fuck". In truth, however, Shadow, real name Josh Davis, a nice middle-class white boy from Hayward, CA, is not so much a professor as a student. This is both his strength and his weakness.

The use of a scene from M*A*S*H is perhaps intended to suggest that Shadow is to sound what Altman is to film, a genre-deconstructing maverick. The reality is that Shadow is one step removed, an observer making hip-hop "about" hip-hop. The conceit of DJ Shadow – or, in fairness to him, the Shadowistas – isn't the belief that hip-hop is sound sculpture (it is), but the implication that the Dres and RZAs weren't already doing it first, and better. The idea that Shadow is some kind of visionary for spotting its potential as audio art is plain insulting.

As difficult as it is to dislike anyone who has such a nerdy love of black music and who fetishises vinyl so much, the show that ensues is a disappointment.

The video screens, showing Koyaanisqatsi–style visuals (time-lapse cityscapes, hi-speed footage of tunnels and freeways at night) are a necessary diversion. It all looks very expensive but in the Astoria's sauna-like conditions, it isn't long before you ask awkward questions like, "how long can you listen to the drumbeat from U2's 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' on a continuous loop and stay sane?" What works when you're monged in your bedroom at 3am and what works at a gig are not the same thing.

At the Bristol show, laughing boy Thom Yorke joined Shadow for their U.N.K.L.E. collaboration, "Rabbit In Your Headlights". Tonight, we get a percussion cameo from Malcolm Catto. For the lion's share of the show, though, the baseball-hatted figure of Shadow just digs into his flightcases for remixed oldies ("Midnight In A Perfect World", "High Noon"), cuts from new album The Private Press ("Blood on the Motorway", "Disavowed") and never-to-be-released rarities.

In 2002, a year in which a clutch of turntablists – Erol Alkan, the Dewaeles, DJ Hell, Kid 606, the glorious return of Grandmaster Flash – have blown apart the dull hegemony of the segue millionaires and resurrected the idea of "entertainment", watching someone only playing records will just not do.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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