by / April 30th, 2012 /

Tricky & Martina Topley-Bird Perform Maxinquaye, London

The ubiquity of the live performance revisiting an entire album in sequence assumes a certain respect and iconic status for the record in question. Without question, Tricky’s Maxinquaye – originally released in 1995 – deserves this status, its standing as an extraordinary account of sexual tension mired in suffocating textures and menacing melancholy, remaining undimmed throughout the intervening 17 years.

On the other hand, considering Tricky’s reputation for wilful contrarianism, it isn’t a massive shock to witness the man showing scant regard for his most seminal of releases, in tonight’s wayward exhibition of unpredictability and improvisation, resulting in mass exasperation from the band and the audience.

It wasn’t simply the prospect of Tricky performing Maxinquaye in its entirely which was the attraction; the man was also billed as ‘re-united’ with Martina Topley-Bird, she who provided the smooth, sultry counterpoints on the album. And it was her initial appearance on stage that provided the current to direct and sustain the first half of the performance, particularly as Tricky appeared to be busy leading his guitarist in a sing-along unrelated to the night’s events – until he signalled for the band to begin and we were immersed in the triple whammy of ‘Ponderosa’, ‘Overcome’ and ‘Black Steel’, Topley-Bird’s vocals at once stately and hushed, Tricky all sinewy and kinetic, topless and frantic.

And then, he was gone. At some point during the warped samples of ‘Abbaon Fat Tracks’, the man vanished and the band soldiered on without him. It wasn’t so much that his vocal prowess was necessary, what ensued was that the presence of his absence was palpable. No one seemed quite sure as to what was going on and while he returned for ‘Hell Is Round The Corner’, the rhythm of the evening was unceremoniously halted. Welcoming his brother, Marlon, to the stage, the younger sibling along with a Bristolian cohort, took the mic for ‘Brand New You’re Retro’, rapping for at least 15 minutes before the floodgates opened and Tricky implored everyone to come up on stage for a mass gathering.

By now, any intimations that a full performance of Maxinquaye was going to be realised seemed ludicrous. ‘I’m having one of the best nights of my life’, declared our man from the stage. ‘I wasn’t really enjoying that first part’. And, truth be told, anyone that had clambered up seemed to be having an awfully good time as well. As the band jammed – punctuated by repeated thumps as Tricky seemed to be forever abruptly dropping his mic – people took turn to sing, shout, even orgasmically moan. Martina was still on stage, gamely trying to keep things going as the jamming appeared to extend on into infinity and the remaining audience appeared to dwindle.

Tricky singularly failed to live up to his billing of performing Maxinquaye. Of course, it’s simple then to castigate the man for not treating his audience with the respect they deserve. Alternatively, perhaps Tricky endowed everyone with the utmost honour through his exhortations to join him and his band on stage. And on tonight’s performance alone, it seems there is a very line, for this mercurial artist, between natural mystique and mindless pastiche.

Photo by Brian Madden.