Massive Attack

•• Massive Attack @ Brixton Academy, London, 8 July 2004
•• Published: SoundsXP, July 2004
•• Original article:

Is 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 surprisingly intact.

Shrinking 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.

The 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.

'Spying 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.

Massive 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.

3D, 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 a point.

The 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.

A cloudy 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.

As Massive 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
Copyright © Ian Roullier 2004-2014