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April 19, 2010 | by  | in Music |
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Massive Attack Concert Review (Vector Arena 25/03/10)

I have finally decided that Massive Attack will never ever transcend the nineties. But that’s okay. That’s good. I mean that in the same way that Bowie will never transcend the seventies or Prince the eighties. Coming to this conclusion has allowed me to get past how annoyingly bland I found their latest album Heliogland, and attending this show was, I imagine, much akin to seeing either of those aforementioned era-defining artists capture a style you still love but you know cannot be made with the same power anymore.

Initially I was a bit apprehensive about buying a ticket: could this group who spin their magic in a studio really work as a live act? I was worried these songs might end up a little meaningless if performed half-heartedly by studio musicians, especially if they were merely backing up 3D and Daddy G rapping in simple monotone with their hands in their pockets. There was also the fact that Daddy G, who ditched the group for a time in 2003, would probably be used like a guest vocalist. And then there was also the crucial matter of guests singing other people’s tracks—would ‘Teardrop’ cause me to end up on the floor of the Vector arena shivering in the foetal position if it wasn’t performed by Elizabeth Frazier?

Thankfully, most of these fears didn’t eventuate. The band had clearly been touring with the group for a long time, which gave them the chance to jam the songs out in ways quite removed from their studio conceptions. Plus, there were two drummers playing simultaneously on most songs—that’s not something you see too often. Daddy G may have been offstage for half the show, but he certainly rocked some awesome cargo pants like he refused to believe it wasn’t 1998 and could be said to have saved himself from performing on the band’s recent sub-par 3D solo material. And thankfully, the guest vocalists were all top notch: Martina Topley Bird, herself a trip-hop veteran, did justice to a stripped-down version of ‘Teardrop’ like few other vocalists could (alongside a lovely little opening solo show); dub legend and long-time collaborator Horace Andy actually sung ‘Angel’; and the fittingly generic diva vocals of Deborah Miller did a killer job at capturing the power of Shara Nelson on Blue Lines classics ‘Safe From Harm’ and ‘Unfinished Symphony’.

It only really dawned on me when the whole band took their bow after their encore that this show was pieced together like an expensive theatre production. There must have been at least ten musicians on stage that had participated like a revolving cast, and you knew that the band had an army of off-stage technicians playing a crucial role. Few electronic acts are given the resources to put on such an extravagant show, but then again, few other acts of this type have an enduring legacy to celebrate like Massive Attack: these guys were among the first to make music rigidly classified as electronica or dance that could retain a timeless quality, a feat rarely achieved in this field during its heyday, let alone 20 years later.

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  1. MBS says:

    This is one of the best live reviews I’ve read for ages.

  2. jjazznola says:

    1) The new cd is great. Yeah, it’s different. It’s not the 90’s anymore. Get over it.
    2) Why would you think Daddy G would be a guest vocalist?
    3) Most of the band have been with MA for many years.They have been a great live act since Mezzanine.
    4) How does one artist “transcend” a decade?
    5) Truth be told, Martina sang Teardrop much better than Elizabeth Frazier did on the last tour. Her voice seemed kind of shot. (I saw them twice last time)
    6) You may want to do a little homework before making assumptions about a show you are going to review although you do admit making them.
    7) Anyway, thanks for the review. I’m looking forward to seeing them this coming week.

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