Brixton Academy, London, 8 July 2004
it getting dark in here? Massive Attack are certainly not
known for their light and airy contributions to downtempo
dance/hip hop/soul/trip hop(even) but the grubby fingerprints
they have left on contemporary music as a whole since debut
Blue Lines have proved indelible. They may have been going
for long enough to have bridged, and opposed, both Gulf
Wars, but their moody mystique and shadowy charisma remain
from a three-piece due to Mushroom’s
departure and then Daddy G's decision to
go part-time, we are now left with just one lone member
of the old triumvirate in the form of 3D.
But one thing Massive Attack have never been short of is
collaborators, having procured the services of Neneh
Cherry, Sinead O’Connor,
Tracey Thorn, Tricky etc
etc at different times, so the last thing 3D has to worry
about is being lonely when he mooches onto the stage.
overall tone for the night is set with some threatening
ambience that slowly increases the tension before 3D and
his assembled collective lumber into the dub bass skank
of 'Angel'. Then Daddy G makes his first fleeting appearance
of the night to perform 'Risingson', its brooding chords
and lazy, smoke-heavy bassline making it crystal clear that
tonight will certainly not be a jovial, light-hearted occasion.
Glass' and 'Karmacoma' only serve to heighten the tense,
uneasy atmosphere so it comes as quite a relief when Dot
Allison steps into Liz Fraser's
shoes for her rendition of the uplifting 'Teardrop'. This
provides only a brief sunbeam, however, as we soon find
ourselves buffeted by the storm of snarling guitars and
leaden beats once again.
Attack stalwart, Horace Andy then tears
away the tension and drops the fear to belt out the joyously
bright and optimistic classic 'Hymn Of The Big Wheel'. This
stirring, sunshine tune with its hissing cymbals and soulful
lilt lifts the crowd and Andy even provokes the audience
into some overhead clapping.
real name Robert Del Naja, is renowned for being vehemently
outspoken about his political beliefs and the recent war
seems to have galvanised his opposition to military muscle
flexing once again. But his downbeat, whispered vocals are
often so hushed that they are overcome by the tidal waves
of apocalyptic noise being created behind him and it seems
an ironic shame that someone who has so much to say cannot
be heard saying it. However, he makes his presence felt
when he dedicates 'Safe From Harm' to the innocent civilians
killed in Iraq and the text screens behind him flash through
countless names and ages of young Iraqis killed during the
conflict. A simple yet devastatingly effective way to make
incessant, circular, panic attack track 'Inertia Creeps'
then makes way for the encore and goosebumps spring immediately
onto the scalp as the first notes of the seminal, ever-fresh,
'Unfinished Sympathy' ting their way out of the speakers.
Hazel Fernandez takes over the vocal duties
once held by Shara Nelson and does the
song, with its immense, brooding chords and beautiful piano
outro, the justice it deserves.
golden laser beams down on 3D's head at the start of set
closer 'Group 4'. Beginning like a dream, hazy, lazy beats
create a slow muted plod before the track erupts in a fit
of howling, screaming rage. Lights flash, strobes flicker
and matrix style figures drop down the screens to create
a fittingly manic ending to an oppressive and, on occasion,
impressive live performance.
Attack evolve they create an ever-darkening fug and it seems
the light at the end of this cold bleak tunnel has long
been snuffed out. Indeed, the new material showcased tonight
seems yet darker still than previous releases. But real
life is not always about sweetness and light is it? This
is a raw, undiluted reality check served up with no excuses.
Aside from some light relief from days gone by, the Massive
Attack experience sits ever-heavier on the listener's shoulders
and conscience. Let's hope that the world becomes a better,
fairer place and 3D a happier man or Massive Attack may
soon collapse underneath the weight of it.
- Ian Roullier, 07/2004