Monday, March 22, 2010

Massive Attack live in Melbourne 2010 (review)

Venue: Sidney Myer Music Bowl

Being inside the Sidney Myer Music Bowl this evening is a pleasure in itself beyond the concert about to take place. It’s a breathtakingly warm, still night deep in the lower seating of the arena making it impossible to entertain a care in the world. The stunning Martina Topley-Bird is on stage cruising through her solo set under a single spotlight, while demonstrating a sunny disposition with occasional smiles and waves between verses. This is her live solo debut in Melbourne, and her first tour with Massive Attack after she recently entered their inner circle following many years of association through her work with ex-Massive rapper Tricky.

Her part in the main show tonight is to be rarely matched despite Massive Attack’s knack for picking great singers. The list of guest vocalists on this band’s work is, well massive, and so it’s down to Martina, along with Jamaican/Brit legend Horace Andy and soul diva Deborah Miller to fill in for those various, equally unique singers. The core of Massive Attack has (almost) always been Robert “3D” Del Naja and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall. The pair’s friendship is well known to be as fragile as some of their music, so it’s with great interest I watch their on-stage chemistry/lack-of as the show unfolds.
A few late arriving fans are taking their seats just as the stage darkens and five musicians file on. Ominous synthesised strings are soon being punctuated by loud drum bursts at the same time the blackness is interrupted by narrow red beams of light. Del Naja and Marshall finally appear on stage in silhouette and park themselves behind a table containing keyboards and a laptop. Once settled in, the music suddenly roars into life and Del Naja’s smoky voice raps out the words to United Snakes – a bonus track from new album Heliogoland’s import only edition. There’s a problem though, 3D can’t be heard at all over the dirgey, thrashing synths and drums. Luckily, it turns out that his raspy singing simply can’t compete with the unusually cacophonous (for Massive Attack) music. Things improve by the second track Babel when Martina returns for what will be the first of several vocal duties for her tonight. The new songs, such as Babel, don’t dominate the set tonight as much as expected. The band had even given away with all tickets sold, a copy of Heligoland, presumably so fans would have time to ingest the latest brooding set – a grower for certain - in time for this tour.
Instead, commercial highlight Mezzanine (1998) gets a thorough riffling tonight, possibly due to the current album’s overabundance of guest singers. With that said, it’s once again up to Martina to step up and this time, take on Mezzanine single Teardrop. Elizabeth Fraser’s vocal on the original song is such an incredible feat of raw emotion; Martina wisely wasn’t about trying to match it. Instead the song was completely rearranged as a dub reggae piece, perfectly fitting Topley-Bird’s voice. The sight of her silhouetted against a giant graphic of an eye, pouring everything she had into this song is utterly staggering. The performance passes all too soon, but will surely stay with everybody here tonight for a long time to come.

I have to say I’m so much more impressed with Horace Andy as a live singer than on the recordings. The shadowy figures scattered around the stage all but vanish as Horace, sporting a bright red hat appears, hands aloft to perform Angel and Girl I Love You under blinding white lights. The band’s guest singers aside, Grant “Daddy G” Marshall is one very bright star in this show. On Risingson he commands the audience’s attention with his guttural half sung/rapping technique and ‘rude-boy’ dancing. Del Naja’s moment to shine comes in Inertia Creeps – his whisper in stark contrast with Marshall’s booming delivery. A slightly less welcome star of Massive Attack’s current show is the endless feed of slogans, headlines, facts and quotes in huge neon letters flickering up on the huge screen. Underworld use similar seizure-inducing visuals in their show, and although spectacular in colour and movement, Massive Attack’s music is far less suited to this kind of pace. Besides that, it’s a bit wanky in a U2 kind of way.

As the show’s end draws near - and we’re reminded via the screens, how much the war in Iraq has cost - the audience fill up the spaces between the seats and the stage to dance, just as Massive Attack’s final surprise is unleashed – One Deborah Miller. You don’t get pipes like hers from working in mines. This soulful diva of grand proportions gives the roof a tickle with heart-stopping renditions of Unfinished Sympathy and Safe From Harm off Blue Lines. Miller is enjoying her moment too; it’s a long wait for her to do only two songs. The finale Karmacoma is, although a welcome visit to the Protection album, a little flat following on from Miller’s grand styling. Nobody seems to mind though and we take our cue to shower the band with love as the song ends. All hatchets between Massive Attack seem buried as Marshall grabs Del Naja’s hand and holding it up yells, “this is my man, D - give it up!” Grant holds steady on stage as the applause builds; he looks to be reminding himself of why he rejoined the band last year, and what he’s missed.

After this tour Massive Attack will probably fly back to Bristol and hide away in their rooms for another six or seven years with the curtains drawn. But if that’s what it takes for them to share a stage and pull off a show like the one seen tonight, may they never be disturbed.





photos by me and Fruitbat


  1. this review really made me want to be there. I think I would give anything just to see Massive Attack playing live. this band rocks my world.

  2. Thanks for the comments... But I don't think the review even comes close to capturing what it was like seeing this band. I go to a lot of shows but Massive Attack are unmatched. This was a pure overload of unearthly brilliance!

    Still waiting for something to match it....