Two and a half hours before the master

Rock
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AT THE Brits, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince whispered: "On record, a slave. In concert, free." Actually, he's not free in concert, he's £27.50, but he does try to give value for money. The reason he calls himself a slave, and has the word written on his cheek, is that his record company refuses to "liberate The Gold Experience", ie release his latest album. In fact, he says, he has seven albums ready for shipment, and he must have played the lot on Friday night. After an hour of videos of himself and his protgs, he did a two-and-a-half-hour show, mostly thumping, funky work-outs and raps we hadn't heard before. Again and again, he said goodnight, and a conveyor belt zipped him backwards off stage, only to zip him back on again a few minutes later.

After an hour or so, it became one long blur of hefty hip-hop jamming, interrupted by snazzy moments: three people flying around on wires, a glitter bomb, the token babe doing a graceful streamer dance, spectators boogying on stage, fireworks . . . but no bona fide hits except a fervent "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World".

TAFKAP himself (Taffy to his friends) remains a star: flirting with the audience while remaining iconically distant, singing and playing guitar like a demon. His show, though, was like his career at the moment: fascinating, but lacking direction, and, more importantly, good tunes.

How foolish I felt, after battling through the snow to Wolverhampton Civic Hall on Thursday with my baseball cap on backwards and a Volkswagen badge hanging round my neck, only to learn that the Beastie Boys don't do that anymore. They have grown up since 1987, when they combined hip hop, heavy metal and sophomoric slapstick and released their smash-hit single "Fight For Your Right to Party". Last year's critically worshipped Ill Communication (Capitol) proved that they are now sophisticated musos, and they also run a clothing company, record label, and magazine. They're fighting for their right to dinner party.

That's the story anyway. Thankfully, it's not entirely true. The Beasties are as ludicrous and tacky as ever. They're still jumping around the stage as they jump-cut between genres, though now those genres include Starsky and Hutch funk and hardcore. They move at breakneck speed: Mike D, Ad Rock and MCA - with a keyboard player, DJ, and a posse of percussionists - rap to backing tapes one minute, and punish live instruments the next. And for all their extraordinary inventiveness, they're still purveyors of escapist, Americanophile nonsense. If you believe that their current obsessions, basketball and Bruce Lee, carry any more kudos than Volkswagen badges did eight years ago, then you probably take Beavis and Butthead seriously too. But I'm glad that Mike D and co are still taking the mickey. It's their insouciance that makes their shows stand out, and will continue to do so as long as Boys will be boys.

Last weekend at Brixton Academy, The Cramps did their usual thing. There were the two new boys in the rhythm section, shrink-wrapped in black, and so still that they could be from Madame Tussauds (the Chamber of Horrors, of course); there was Poison Ivy wading through the sludgy acoustics of the Academy with her surf guitar; oh, and there was Lux Interior dressed only in plastic trousers and high-heels, clambering to the top of a 10ft speaker stack, swallowing his microphone and snapping its stand into three pieces. Just what you'd expect, really.

Interior makes Iggy look pop, and has a voice so sinister that when he sings about doing the twist it sounds as if he is imagining thumbscrews. But when he recreates the final scene of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the obvious question - after "Is he human?" - is, do his antics render the music irrelevant? Maybe, but it would be churlishly puritanical to deny that there is a place for such performers, although admittedly it is not a place you would want to visit without an armed guard.

TAFKAP: Wembley Arena, 081-900 1234, tonight, Tues, Wed; Manchester G-Mex, 061-832 900, Fri; and touring. Beastie Boys: Manchester Academy, 061-275 4815, Mon; Glasgow Barrowlands, 041-552 4601, Tues.

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