Lupe Fiasco, Somerset House, London

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The Independent Culture

Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. As we approach an hour-and-a-half of standing in one of London's most attractive courtyards, this conscientious performer introduces his backing singers and six-man band with an admittedly much-deserved rap for each. Hard to recall now that gigs by US hip-hop acts used to be about poor sound and slovenly stagecraft.

This comes after a stunning version of Lupe Fiasco's biggest hit, "Superstar", which could have been a superb closer, though we should have been warned by a rambling interlude about how Fiasco has grown fond of London after his first wearying club PAs. Now he's back, in a three-piece suit, with a full-on show that rarely lets up in energy.

Fiasco certainly has enough crowd-pleasers to draw on, beginning with 2006's glittering debut album, Food & Liquor, which showed him following in Kanye West's hook-laden, yet conscious, footsteps. Early this year, he returned with his partly conceptual The Cool, which has baffled as much as enthralled.

Tonight, though, Fiasco cuts through its metaphysical allusions and a number of his own images, namely the teetotal nerd and the reluctant rapper down on the genre's materialism. Instead we get a fist-pumping head-banger who wields his mic stand like a rock star, the 26-year-old making up for lost time now he's in the spotlight. He softens us up with the easy-going rhymes from his debut, before unleashing more extreme fare. Fiasco hams the opening bars of "Daydreamin'", before his band steamhammer the sampled strings. There is a needle-sharp a cappella version of "The Coolest", and you can still savour his smartest rhymes on "Dumb It Down".

Sarah Green is a fiercely powerful co-vocalist on several numbers, making the kitchen-sink drama of "He Say She Say" her own. This versified take on Barack Obama's call for greater responsibility now becomes pure catharsis on her part, while Matthew Santos, the crooner of the chorus on "Superstar", sounds like a West End musical try-out who took a wrong turn. Behind them, Fiasco's band leap ably from Motown soul to crunching funk metal via insidious electrofunk. Between songs, they partake of pointless jazz interludes that usually lead swiftly into the next number, unless Fiasco begins to ramble. The only song that bombs is "Paris, Tokyo", a simpering travelogue that helps give The Cool its uneven quality.

With political messages and reportage buried under Fiasco's sure showmanship, the bar for hip-hop performance has truly been raised.

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