The short review:
Last night, Massive Attack completely Blew. My. Mind.
The long review:
In 1998 I was supposed to see Massive Attack open for The Verve down in Seattle. I was then just a brand new Massive Attack fan having fallen in love with Mezzanine and its accompanying videos. That record remains one of my favourite albums ever and I probably listen to it every couple of weeks or so. Anyway, due to The Verve imploding and Nick McCabe leaving the group, The Verve’s tour was postponed and Massive Attack pulled out. So when a good friend and I drove down to the Mercer Arena in Seattle to see the rescheduled date there was no opening act…just three hours of reggae.
Even at the time, as a new fan, the blown opportunity to see Massive Attack stung. But over the years that original sting grew into a more persistent irritant as I never got the chance to see the band again. And as I became a bigger and bigger fan of Massive Attack, that day in Seattle haunted me even more (mixing metaphors!). Either they weren’t touring at all, not touring North America/the PNW, or not touring Australia. I was never in the right place at the right time. When the band reemerged with new material for a European tour in 2008 a new album seemed imminent (imminent by Massive Attack standards as we still had to wait 18 months) and I started to hope that maybe this time around I’d get my chance.
And last night I did. I was finally in the right place at the right time. And to top it off I was with a wonderful group of people that included that good friend who sat on the floor of the Mercer Arena with me in 1998 as we cursed our missed opportunity.
The band came on stage shortly after 8:30 and immediately launched into an absolutely storming version of United Snakes (originally a b-side to False Flags; later included in the Heligoland deluxe edition). In theory, opening a show with a relatively obscure b-side is a bad idea but it didn’t take long to realize that the live arrangement of United Snakes is absolutely monstrous. Shrouded in blue lights and heavy fog, Robert Del Naja’s (3D) vocals were ghostly yet aggressive while the five-piece band (including both electric and acoustic drum kits) were simply incredible. When the song ended the crowd absolutely exploded and I realized I was simply one of many who had been waiting years to see Massive Attack.
Martina Topley-Bird then took to the stage for a version of Babel that was miles better than the recorded version. It was at this point that the Massive Attack stage/light show began to come to life. Rows of LED lights crossed the entire stage and during the night we were bombarded with facts (i.e. number of barrels of oil pouring into the Gulf Of Mexico every day), travel information for extraordinary rendition flights, the latest gossip, binary code, or images of eyes and corporate logos. I’d heard lots of great things about this lighting rig but I was incredibly impressed with it all night. The “What the fuck, Arizona?” statement, in particular, was both funny and sad while the show ended with this emblazoned across the stage.
Daddy G emerged for the third song of the night, Risingson, one of Mezzanine’s many high points and I couldn’t believe I was finally seeing him and 3D on stage together. It was almost surreal. Anyway, Risingson kicked ass and was quickly followed by Girl I Love You, perhaps the high point of this year’s Heligoland record. Horace Andy, the legend, slowly ambled onto the stage with his otherwordly voice to sing the song in front of a horrifying set of statistics blasted from the lighting rig. Martina (in a new outfit) returned for Psyche which provided one of the few moments of respite in a pretty relentlessly full-on gig. Her vocals all night were fantastic, even on the big-shoes-to-fill Teardrop, and I left the gig a pretty big fan of hers. Of course I was familiar with her work on Tricky’s records but on stage she was incredibly endearing.
Midway through the set, 3D led the band through the one 100th Window song the band still plays live, Future Proof. It’s one of the highlights of that album and it stood up well with the rest of the live material as the band, led by guitarist Angelo Bruschini, brought the song to a powerful climax. The remainder of the set then went into pretty heavy Mezzanine-mode, beginning with Teardrop. While Martina’s vocals were beautiful the current arrangement of Teardrop didn’t really impress me. Still loved it…but I kind of feel like the band were just changing the arrangement of their most well-known song simply because it’s well known. The misty rain that was falling through the lights during Teardrop was almost cosmic, however.
Mezzanine immediately followed and it was so great to hear that one live as it’s not a hit but one of my favourites off the album. Next? Angel. To hear Horace Andy sing this one live and to feel those drums and guitars when they crash in…well it was incredible and something I won’t forget for quite some time. But things managed to get even better on the next song, Safe From Harm, the night’s first Blue Lines appearance. Deborah Miller took lead vocals along with 3D but it was the extended finale of the song, complete with heavy guitar, that turned the song into something totally unreal. The set then ended with Inertia Creeps and I was left completely astounded by what I had just witnessed.
After a tiny break, the band reemerged for a three song encore beginning with Splitting The Atom. How awesome was it to see 3D, Daddy G and Horace Andy doing vocals together? VERY AWESOME INDEED. Then Deborah returned to the stage and Daddy G did some DJing for Unfinished Sympathy. UNFINISHED SYMPATHY. Deborah’s vocals were incredible and to hear a classic like that live was unbelievable. The final song of the night was Atlas Air which, like much of the Heligoland material, was about a billion times better live. As 3D twisted his words, the screens showed flights paths before ending in a visual cacophony of corporate logos and flags while the band created a storm. It was just incredible.
After the song faded away, the entire 10 member band took the stage for some bows and to soak in the adoration of a very happy (and damp) audience. As we filed out of the Malkin Bowl I was in disbelief that I had finally seen Massive Attack live and totally blown away by how amazing it was. One of the best gigs I’ve seen in years. Twelve years was a long time to wait but my patience was rewarded big time.
Girl I Love You
Safe From Harm
Splitting The Atom
My photos from the gig are up on Flickr.
* 3D was pretty impressed with Vancouver’s most famous export telling us it was stronger than the stuff they get in Bristol. High praise coming from these guys, I think.
* Due to Malkin Bowl’s strict curfew, the band had to skip over a new song, Invade Me (sung by Martina), during their set and all their shows this year have ended with Karmacoma which we also missed out on. In fact, this setlist is the fixed set the band have been playing so far in 2010.
* Martina Topley-Bird also opened the gig and I was pretty impressed with her solo set. She did lots of live sampling (including of the crowd) and even did a pretty spooky version of Overcome off Tricky’s Maxinquaye which kind of makes up for missing out on Karmacoma. About to dive into her catalogue.
* BLOWN AWAY.