Beck : London Brixton Academy

Beck finds himself tackling a mid-career crisis.

What a trooper. In the past few months, Beck - once a model of private stability

to counter his theatrical displays of instability - has split up with his

ong-term girlfriend, called it quits with his faithful management company,

dallied briefly with Winona Ryder and, if rumours are to be believed, embraced

the dubious creed of Scientology. For a man whose personal life always seemed mundane whilst his music hurtled off in all directions, it must constitute a genuine mid-career crisis.

Now the danger is, will Beck's creative drive stagnate whilst his private

business contains all the excitement, fireworks and unforeseen twists? The first signs aren't good. Here he is, back for what has become an annual trawl round festivals, cattlemarkets and European airfields, back with what appears

to be an almost identical show to the one which dazzled Reading and Leeds last August. There are split jumps and afroed bassists, a keyboardist in cape and codpiece. A selection of cricket pads and funny hats for everyone to wear during the encore. And a lot of very good songs that've been played just a few times too often.

It's a little churlish, of course, to criticise one of pop's great performers

for coming to Britain too much. But it seems, currently, that Beck's live schedule is outpacing his creativity. When you've made your name for being three steps ahead of fashion, it only takes one tour without new ideas to make you appear suddenly, alarmingly dated. That's the dilemma of tonight's show; the sense of watching a man whose personal ructions have distracted him from the job in hand, who's fallen off the zeitgeist and sprained his ankle.

There are still great moments, like when Beck invites a dozen unco-ordinated

indie kids onstage to "show us their moves" during 'Mixed Bizness' and 'Nicotine & Gravy', appearing to draw enthusiasm and energy from them like a spry Hollywood vampire, then leading the crowd in a bewildered chant of "Sergio Valenti" for the maker of dubious '70s jeans. An acoustic session features a rare take on 'Forcefield' (from 1994's 'One Foot In The Grave') and a bleakness that's far more emotionally engaging than usual.

The path ahead, though, looks confused. The one 'new' song is a cover of David Bowie's 'Diamond Dogs'. On the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, it's an alienated electro collaboration with Timbaland, but live it's reduced to slurred, squalling, almost conventional rock. As his albums sell fewer and his audience remains hungry for the same old show, Beck's arrived at a nightmare scenario. The public have caught up with him, and he has to decide whether to push off again or else lock forever into the festival circuit, a Dave Grohl with fancier footwork. A pastiche, in fact, of his own, once invigorating, pastiche.

John Mulvey

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