Friday, March 26, 2010

Music: Massive Attack at the Vector Arena

I haven't been to a big show like this in a while, so found myself rather overwhelmed by the smoke and flashing lights and beer-swilling/spilling teeny-boppers pushing past me; I must be getting old. That said, Massive Attack put on a high-intensity show, considering they're even older than I am. They gave equal weight to their new album Heligoland and 1990s favorites like Teardrop, Angel, Safe From Harm, Unfinished Sympathy, and Karmacoma; the new songs are generally harder and more guitar-driven than the older dreamy grooves I prefer.

An enormous LED panel dominated the band's rotating cast of vocalists, and at times I wasn't sure whether the audience was cheering for the musicians or the light show. All Music Guide's first bullet point describes Massive Attack's mood as "druggy," so I suppose I should have been less offended by the textual accompaniment to their first song, in which the LED wall flashed name after name of recreational drug, flicking quickly through and then briefly pausing (ecstasy-cannabis-PCP-methamphetamines-HEROIN) as if an unlucky slot machine. The general remainder of LED accompaniment comprised the sort of pseudo-socially responsible headlines/hyper-leftist yellow journalism that is appealing to immature anti-establishment rockstars. I'm "anti-war" myself, but I don't think it's responsible to flash tidbits like "head in a bag" and "just doing our job" on the screen during a trip-hop show, at the beginning of which you've advertised the use of dangerous drugs whose cultivation and trade are deeply connected with the international violence and oppression you're criticizing. Nor is it just to compare the British PM's gardening expenses with the GDP of small African nations, unless you are also going to include for comparison the budget for your tour's LED set design. I will accept responsible political activism from an intelligent band like Radiohead, but couldn't help but feel like Massive Attack was clinging, in a very un-nuanced way, to Thom Yorke's coattails.

So long as I kept my eyes off the stage and on my dance partner, I enjoyed myself. Ultimately, my experience with Massive Attack is as a Tricky fan, so I was disappointed he didn't show (though the presence of Martina, whose voice I know from Tricky albums, totally made the show). When they ended the encore set with Karmacoma, even though I was dancing, I was itching to get home and listen to Overcome, Tricky's far superior version.

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