It’s a nice feeling to know that sometime in the very near future (fingers crossed), Massive Attack’s fifth album will be released. By the time it comes out, most likely in February, it will be seven years since 100th Window was launched. This week, the band released a stopgap EP Splitting The Atom (reviewed here) so the thoughts are very much on new material as reflected in tonight’s set which contained at least seven new songs.
It’s also nice to know that the big man, Daddy G is back on stage after his hiatus from the live setting. He cuts a towering figure against the backdrop of impressive lights and visuals, a huge LED display stretching across the entire stage provided by United Visual Artists. After the instrumental start in ‘Bulletproof Love’ we feel his presence as both 3D and Daddy G appear for the brooding upbeat new tune ‘Heartcliff Star’ and we get our first taste of the duo sparring lines back and forth with the menacing repetitious mantra “Shoot a man” dispatched by Daddy G.
Just like that, he’s gone again as 3D introduces Martina Topley Bird who is the main female vocalist on the night. 3D is the ringmaster tonight disappearing for new song ‘Babel’ leaving Topley-Bird who is lustrously dressed in a flowing red gown bathed in a spotlight. 3D appears again to introduce “the man who needs no introduction”, longtime collaborator Horace Andy for another new tune ’16 Seeter’ which sees him deliver a quivering almost-distressed vocal backed up two drumkits and heavy metallic bass.
Topley-Bird returns to the stage on her own up front for the twinkling ‘Red Light’. The middle of the set is particularly strong – 3D dedicates 100th Window’s ‘Future Proof’ to SinÃ©ad O’ Connor and the song is caustic live backed by the LED screen showing binary ones and zeros. We get powerful renditions of Mezzanine material ‘Rising Son’, ‘Angel’, ‘Inertia Creeps’ and a stripped-back, reworked version of ‘Teardrop’ with Martina Topley-Bird on vocal duties. As her voice hits the bridge acappella, it’s the first time the crowd can really be heard tonight.
It’s definitely not the last however. Blue Lines songs are received as if gifts from another era with the powerhouse R&B voice of Deborah Miller dominating ‘Safe From Harm’ and an incendiary ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ giving the crowd proper singalongs. Hearing those songs in their current incarnations does serve to highlight just how different this band are in 2009. Even ‘Karma Coma’ sounds a tad dated at this point yet it’s still brilliant as is the first encore ‘Splitting The Atom’ – the “current” tune and it brings everyone 3D, Daddy G, Topley-Bird and Horace Andy on stage at once, the only song to do so.
‘Marrakesh’ with its pummelling bassline is perhaps the best new tune of the night and at ten minutes, the night’s longest. 3D is clearly relishing it, shadowboxing to the beat with his back to the audience.
Top marks for the visuals too. Heavily political themed throughout the night with words and imagery referencing rendition flights, MP expenses, global corporations, crime and newspaper headlines, they are the perfect eerie, dystopian foil to the band’s dark-sided concise music. One particular timely statistic flashed up early in the gig regarding Irish politician expenses elicits a cheer – John O’ Donoghue can’t even escape the wrath of these Bristolians.
Photos by Kieran Frost.