Friday 1st July 2016
Bristol trip-hop comes to London with a biting political vindictiveness
Photos: Michael Jamison
Massive Attack captured the Bristol Sound. Claustrophobic, tenebrous vibrations seem to seep out from the crepuscule of the old Bristol club scene whenever you listen to their early records, but one could only be tentative about how this sound would translate to the open landscape of Hyde Park. Having seen Blur completely in their element last year on the same stage, I was unsure before the show whether Massive Attack’s persistently underground trip-hop could match the triumph of their Britpop predecessors.
In fact, over the past decade Massive Attack’s concerns have stretched to broader and broader horizons; often collaborating with Blur’s Damon Albarn, Del Naja and Marshall have been involved in numerous political projects and protests across the world, from Bristol and London to, more recently, a refugee camp in Lebanon.
And at Hyde Park they show no intentions of backing down, the music being accompanied by the striking didactic visuals that have recently become a consistent element in their performances. A paroxysm of lights appears before the audience, an epileptic tapestry of words darting across the huge screen. From “sovereignty” to “bigot”, “Labour Party” to “United Kingdom Independence Party” to “slumber party” and “after party” and “Navel-Gazing Apathy party”, the political discourse of the past weeks becomes a senseless slurry of words to echo the disillusioning effect of the relentless Leave and Remain campaigns, a glossolalia accompanying the almost overpowering bass and threatening crescendos of the music.
A momentous nod is made to their past as they are joined by long time collaborator Tricky, and even Horace Andy, his leg in a full cast, is wheeled out to centre stage to sing “Angel”. But the old, familiar songs are struck with a relevant, urgent presence. Safe From Harm is affected by an ironic, melancholy tone as the names of countries and cities destroyed by terrorism appear across the screen. Before they play rarely performed track “Eurochild”, Del Naja reflects on how he did not realise he would be singing it 22 years after it was released as a “requiem” for Britain’s membership in the EU.
With two pounding drum kits and a masterful control of electronic sound, the musical virtuosity of the two frontmen and their various collaborators strikes the audience in a way that could not be captured in the studio. The closing “Unfinished Sympathy”, performed with a full string orchestra, is particularly miraculous. Nonetheless, what was most striking about the performance was how effectively Massive Attack took the dark, reverberating rhythms of their music out of the nightclubs, and into the open battleground of contemporary British politics to reflect the collective feeling of the nation with terrifying acuteness
Massive Attack played:
Ritual Spirit (with Azekel)
Pray for Rain (with Babatunde Adebimpe)
Angel (with Horace Andy)
Voodoo in My Blood (with Young Fathers)
White Men Are Black Too (Young Fathers cover) (with Young Fathers)
Sing (Young Fathers cover) (with Young Fathers)
He Needs Me (with Young Fathers)
Take It There (with Tricky)
Safe From Harm (with Deborah Miller)
Unfinished Sympathy (with Deborah Miller)
Thankyou for reading, you can see my review published on Gigwise via the link above.