I’ve been waiting to see Massive Attack live for a long time. In love with the Bristol sound in the early to mid nineties and always kind of a fan, I never quite got around to going to see them play. So I was excited on Thursday night, on the guest list for the second night of Massive Attack at the Tempodrom.
It was a second sold-out show, packed with people, and as I did a bit of people-watching while we were waiting for the support act to come on I realised that Massive Attack these days appeal to a wide spectrum of people – they’ve managed to keep their particular cool even after going for over twenty years. They’re cool enough to appeal to the kids, they’re cool enough to appeal to the forty somethings, they’re a bit mainstream, they’re a bit other.
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The support act Young Fathers didn’t do that much for me unfortunately, three guys rapping and singing a bit with a fourth guy playing some mainly electronic drums at the back. Then Massive Attack arrived – or at least one half of it in the person of Robert Del Naja – and launched without much preamble into their first song.
Massive Attack have had a very chequered history
On the second song singer Martina Topley-Bird came on stage, looking riveting in either a face mask or some heavy make up in a kind of tribal pattern, I’m not sure which. A song later Daddy G came on, to a low bow from fellow Attacker Robert Del Naja.
Massive Attack have had a very chequered history. Originally a trio, they fell out through the end of the nineties, with third member Mushroom leaving the band, protesting at Del Naja’s ever stronger grip on the production and direction of the music, pushing it into more of a post punk direction. And then at the beginning of the zeroes Daddy G left as well, leaving Del Naja in sole control of MA. A while later Daddy G came back, but only to perform live. Some time later again, he started contributing in the studio, but it seems to be still something of a shaky ship.
Still, the new EP, released in January of this year, features contributions from Tricky, the first time he’s worked with them since the beginning of the nineties, and Daddy G seems to be more in the mix as well.
I want music to grab me and carry me with it
So, to the concert. I want music to grab me and carry me with it, and Massive Attack on Thursday night, as good as they were – and Tricky did turn up with them on one song – quite weird to see him and MTB on the stage together again – didn’t quite do that. It was too impersonal. They didn’t talk to the audience, there seemed to be little communication between the people on stage and the people off it. The light show behind them was effective but I couldn’t help feeling that they’d decided to let the visuals speak for them…I’m in awe of Martina Topley-Bird for various reasons but mainly because she was that voice that seared through to the heart of me when I first heard Tricky’s debut album Maxinquaye. But in terms of the singer adopting the role of interlocuter between band and audience, there wasn’t much going on.
Maybe it’s the distance within the band that’s obvious on stage – the best bands have that impression of being a gang of friends who have been thick and thin together. That carries across on stage, and I didn’t feel it here.
Massive Attack have done enough, really. They, with their eighties party collective The Wild Bunch (including Tricky, Nellee Hooper and other names you’d probably recognise), initiated trip hop and the Bristol sound – even if they always hated the trip-hop label. And Portishead’s Geoff Barrow was an intern and trainee tape operator in the studio when they were recording their deubt, seminal album, before going on to record his own genre-defining album. They don’t really need to do any more to impress people. But…I don’t know. I want spectacular. I want jaw-dropping. I want more.
Review: Chi Chi Honeysuckle | Photos: Mia Morris