When the artist known simply as Beck first emerged on the music scene in 1994, his slacker blues anthem about being a "Loser" ("So why don't you kill me?") and mumbled, laconic appearances on MTV seemed to indicate a short-term artistic presence and a guy who couldn't care less about making a connection.

How wrong first impressions can be. In the years since that near-novelty hit single (from the million-selling "Mellow Gold" album), Beck has become one of rock's most inventive creators and hardest-working showmen, a musician with commercial success and critical credibility to spare. His albums have explored myriad styles -- the trippy camp-side folk of "Mutations," the dirty funk of "Midnite Vultures," the tender melancholy of "Sea Change." He's also dabbled in hip-hop, indie rock, experimental jazz and Brazilian lounge.

His surreal lyrics, sardonic humor and meticulous studio craftsmanship appeal to postmodern hipsters, but Beck also knows how to create killer hooks that grab those who simply want to dance ("Sexx Laws" has a positively Prince-ly groove) or shout along with "two turntables and a microphone" ("Where It's At").

Those who've seen Beck in local appearances, whether in front of tens of thousands at the HFStival or a smaller, dedicated crowd at Wolf Trap's Filene Center, also know that, unlike many a studio wunderkind, Beck has a sure and playful command of the stage. He's surrounded himself with excellent players who can readily spin among his many musical moods. And when he plays solo, as during a recent benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina victims, he can tap into heartfelt sentiment, a full 180 degrees from the sarcasm some of his earlier work suggested.

True to his family legacy -- his father was a noted conductor and string arranger, his mother was a regular at Andy Warhol's Factory and his grandfather was a major player in the Fluxus art movement -- Beck has never allowed himself to be pulled into the music industry's pigeonholes. Even as his major-label albums (for Geffen) sold millions, he continued to release more experimental material on smaller independent labels.

In addition to recording, Beck has a hands-on approach to music videos and visual art. In 1998, his artwork was displayed with his late grandfather's in a joint show, and he recently created the cover for a compilation CD to benefit a public radio station in his hometown of Los Angeles. Beck even invites the audience to play along. His most recent release, this year's "Guero," is available in an extended double CD with a 56-page book, and a DVD of interactive music videos that technically-inclined fans can direct.

While Beck has recently opened a few arena shows for the Rolling Stones, he's bringing along two acts to open his Patriot Center concert -- McRorie, a sensor-laden dude whom one critic called a "one-man bandstravaganza," and Whirlwind Heat, who've toured with the White Stripes and recorded their debut album with Jack White's Third Man Records label in 2003.

-- MARIANNE MEYER

The Patriot Center is at 4500 Patriot Cir., on the campus of George Mason University. Tickets are $40 and can be purchased online at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 703-573-SEAT. Parking is free. For information, visit the Patriot Center Web site at www.pariotcenter.com.

If you have a suggestion for Live!, e-mail the details to mariannemeyer@comcast.net. Please write for the correct mailing address before sending anything via snail mail.

Beck, at a recent hurricane relief benefit above, performs Wednesday at George Mason University.