P., thoughtful brother that he is, decided to surprise me by getting me tickets to Massive Attack's gig at the O2 Academy in Brixton on Friday. Unfortunately for him, I managed to guess what the surprise was (comes with being a walking Time Out guide of any city I'm in), but it was still very much appreciated.
Massive Attack may not have very much new material, but, one certainly has to respect the fact that they practically invented trip hop. And even though it's been over a decade since Mezzanine was released, it's still one of the greatest albums ever produced. And, yes, I'll admit it, it's definitely the album to put on if you ever want to set the mood for... you know. *cough* I don't think there's a single person alive who can resist the onslaught that are the first four songs on the album (Angel, Risingson, Teardrop and Inertia Creeps)... The menacing, inexorable beats of each tune simply evoke a physical response from me, and I'm sure, a lot of other people. And, of course, Robert del Naja has one of the sexiest voices in the business.
That being said, Massive Attack is most definitely not at its peak anymore... and it showed. Del Naja and Grant Marshall didn't really say too much. They aren't the showmen that, say, Bono and Chris Martin are, for sure. Not that they should be, but I do like it when the band makes an effort to interact with the audience, because the interaction and spontaneity is what makes the difference between going to a concert, and staying home to listen to an album. I'll say one thing though: del Naja doesn't really dance or even sway. He did a side-to-side trot whenever he was on stage, which made him look a little like he needed to find the nearest restroom, stat.
And their new material? Well, it didn't really grab the crowd. It certainly didn't grab me, but at least I listened respectfully, unlike the long-time fan beside me who kept complaining to his companion that he didn't come for the new songs, just their classics.
What really made my night - and that fan's night too - was the appearance of Horace Andy, the original vocalist on Angel. It was an incredible thrill listening to him sing this. It was amazing how ominous yet heartbreaking he made it sound. Just... wow.
Other guest vocalists included supporting act Martina Topley-Bird, who did a rather poor job of replacing Liz Fraser from the Cocteau Twins on Teardrop, particularly when it came to the high note which Fraser does so well, and Deborah Miller who did a wonderful job on Safe from Harm and Unfinished Sympathy, both of which originally featured the vocals of Shara Nelson.
My one big quibble, though, has got to be that the band hasn't changed its light show at all since they performed at Meltdown last year. I get that del Naja has a political agenda and wants to put it across at each show, but, surely they could have come up with something new more than a year down the road rather than doing the commercial flights bit and having them all head or depart from Guantanamo Bay?