A Massive Attack concert is always more than a concert, it was the second time I was seeing the UK band on Thursday night, and I can’t say the experience has changed my mind. There is nothing out there like them, no other band comes up with these amazing all-senses-overwhelming shows, transports you in an unique world of electronic music with trip hop rhythms, sensual female vocals, creepy male voices and bass lines so deep they stab you in the guts, while bombarding you with multicultural references, LED alphanumeric data, and laser lights at the same time.
But first, and very early in the game, special guest Clark played an interesting set of electronic music, which at times sounded like a symphonic science fiction soundtrack with organ-like swirls and isolated piano notes… it was dark and lonely, lost in space and very cinematic, and the dark blue light wrapping him was helping to create the melancholic atmosphere. He played one unique continuous spacecraft track, and for some time there was no beats at all, then indistinguishable voices came up, even some rap followed by crispy electric beats… It was a good opener for Massive Attack, unfortunately many people were still coming up and trying to find their seats or were too absorbed by their personal conversation to pay attention.
I always get the impression there is a deep mystery associated with Massive Atttack’s shows, first of all the band stays in the dark most of the time while the background is inundated by blinding white, red, green lights, then there is so much to absorb at the same time that something is certainly going to escape you. The lightning show going on during the songs is impressive and smart, and the sentences appearing and disappearing in a subliminal way on the widescreen behind them, very soon overwhelm you with information of all sorts: political facts, headline news, pop culture gossips, war facts, social media words,….it is a melting pot of data turning into nonsense, and efficiently reflects the way news and information are insanely bombarded at everyone’s face at every minute… and most of all, it reflects the way we retain information: if there were data about the Iraq war, the Gaza strip or the Palestine liberation movement somewhere among this LED chaos, avalanche of statistics and Google searches, all I remember are tidbits of pop culture gossips about Jennifer Lawrence and Kloe Kardashian!
The band took the stage with ‘Karmacoma’, a funky trip hop groove and a background of war news mixed with images of O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson trials, always blending the trivial of our trash culture with the substantial, and if it was not their most familiar song, it immediately gave the tone of the show. ‘Battlebox’ had laser lights flashing in all directions then ‘United Snakes’ – not the friendliest song to sing to an American audience – broke all the rules: It was dark despite the red bright lights, krautrocky and tribal, with a hypnotic series of brand and corporation logos running as fast as the speed of light on the screen, haunted by Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja’s creepy vocals and some powerful drumming that made every head explode. The show was a succession of empowering numbers built around Grant ‘Daddy G Marshall and Del Naja’s sonic explorations and their menacing-sinister half-spoken vocals, alternating with subtle quieter songs inhabited by Martina Topley-Bird’s dreamy and smoky vocals, which culminated in their spooky sensuality during ‘Paradise Circus’ and Teardrop’. I just love the way she sings ‘Oh well, the devil makes us sin’… It is powerfully emotional music served by an astonish live show that can take your breath away and bring goosebumps all over your body.
Horace Andy couldn’t be there to sing ‘Angel’ so before playing the song, Del Naja said, ‘So you’ll have to imagine we’re a bunch of DJs playing our new single’, and it didn’t prevent me to greatly enjoy the hair-rising, beast-crawling-under-your-skin nature of the tune. But I can’t say this was a highlight of the show, as every number brought something mesmerizing. Binary codes 101100100 had invaded the widescreen during ‘Jupiter’, ‘Future Proof’ sounded like a creepier version of an ‘Ok Computer’ song, whereas green computer lines of recent news headlines were scrolling behind them during the dangerous sexual tension of ‘Inertia Creeps’. Guest vocalist Deborah Miller came to sing ‘Safe From Harm’, an older song off the band 1991 debut album ‘Blue Lines’, and the song, with its droning bass lines and R&B-jazzy soaring vocals, demonstrated how much their music has evolved since, in order to reach the complexity of the tracks found on ‘Mezzanine’ and ‘Heligoland’.
They came back for an encore of three songs and as it is always the case with Massive Attack, you never know who is gonna come as a guest vocal, so after a haunting ‘Splitting the Atom’ with Daddy G, 3D and Topley-Bird, Tunde Adebimpe of TV On The Radio joined them for ‘Pray For Rain’. Del Naja said it was the first time their friend Adebimpe was singing with them, and his voice was totally fitting the song… there is a dark beauty in all these songs, even though I have never completely understood their meaning, they instantaneously bring dramatic and apocalyptic visions with prophetic lines. Deborah Miller came back for an older song ‘Unfinished Sympathy’, and the Greek theater had transformed into a dark R&B club… I wanted more of their beautiful noisy creepy songs, but suddenly it was over,… I hadn’t looked much around me, and I hadn’t realized I was surrounded by middle age guys and gals, including some blonde Europeans speaking unknown language. It’s hard to believe that Massive Attack recorded ‘Mezzanine’ in 1998 and that they haven’t released anything since 2010 (‘Heligoland’)… However, they sounded as modern as they always have been, overloading our senses with a social consciousness, presenting us a mirror of our society with its obsession with technology, social media connection and ultimate technophobia, but mostly, offering us an answer with their unique vision of beauty.
Safe From Harm
Spitting the Atom
Pray for Rain
A few pictures of the show here (I was too far!!)
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