Massive Attack

Carling Apollo, Manchester on Friday 11 April 2003

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It's been quite a year for Massive Attack; a new album which got a fairly lukewarm reception, a band which seemed to not be a band at all with only one member left, and that member – Robert Del Naja having a brush with the Paedo Police.

Well, Massive Attack have never been a simple sunny band and this gig did nothing to dispel that image. You can never be sure what to expect from one of their performances. Having always used a variety of vocalists the set list depends a lot on who is in the country at the time. The five microphones strung across the front of the stage gave a clue though.

In front of a tight 4 piece of musicians (drums, base, guitar and keyboard) and the occasional violinist, Robert kicked off with 'Future Proof' before the first smile was cracked when Horace Andy appeared on stage to ululate his way through 'Everywhen' and then vicar Sinead O Connor appeared for a heartfelt rendition of 'What Your Soul Sings'.

It seemed that we were going to get the whole of '100th Window' at this stage but the smile turned to a grin when a familiar tall loping figure ambled out accompanied by a rare quip from Robert; "see, I told you he would come".

Yup, it was Daddy G the formerly MIA member. Joining up with Robert for a rendition of; 'Risingson'. Suddenly the atmosphere of the gig changed and I began to look at MA in a different way. Rather than thinking of them as a reduced band I saw them for what they probably are and always have been - a means of delivering tunes without faces. This was echoed in their style of delivery. The focus of their delivery was not the people on the stage but rather the simple but effective visuals.

A huge screen behind the musicians delivered an evolving digital display throughout the show of flowing data; binary, statistical, political, sociological. Tailored for each venue it provides an extraordinary degree of personalisation filling with local facts, places as well as jumping to a global level, never more effective than when it showed as a scrolling shopping receipt just what the US spends in its annual military budget ($400 billion if you're interested).

Lit from behind the musicians and vocalists became faceless, and the concentration was placed fairly and squarely on the sound and the content of the songs. And you cannot fault the sound. Joyous and jiggy MA may not be, but they do give good noise. For a band that is known for their tortuous and complicated production you could have been listening to any of the albums at home as the live rendition was faultless.

As each song would finish the vocalist would give a quick wave and disappear off the stage to make way for the next. This is no ego trip of a gig for them.

Four microphones down, next up was Elizabeth Fraser who gave a stunning rendition of the fragile 'Teardrop' from Mezzanine despite dropping a couple of lines.

Mixing up the tunes between albums (possibly to hide the fairly pedestrian offerings from 100th Window) the only album that didn't get a look in was Protection. Unfortunately the 5th microphone didn't reveal what everyone was hoping for which was Shara Nelson and 'Unfinished Sympathy'. A sterling singer did do it, but after the richness of Andy, O Connor, Fraser as well as Daddy G and Del Naja it was a let down.

This was a set put together by a man who is obviously coming out of a tough period and the choice of the songs echoed this, concentrating on the dour side of the MA catalogue, and emphasising the horrible state our planet is in with war and waste. Even the normally reconciliatory 'Big Wheel' (hello again Horace) was sang in front of a real time scrolling list of global consumables.

Are Massive Attack are continuing effort then? Yes, if they don't slit their throats from depression first. Don't go to these gigs if you want to come away all smiley happy. However should you go if you get the opportunity? A resounding 'Yes' to that one. This is one of the best looking and sounding gigs that I have been to in a long time, and the trips down memory lane of 12 years of Massive Attack made me come away with at least a smile across my face. Cheer up Robert.

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article by: Tim Fellows

published: 14/04/2003 18:41