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9th February 2016

Live: Massive Attack

Massive Attack hit the musical standard they’ve set for themselves, but leave the crowd uneasy with their heavy-handed activism

O2 Apollo

28th January 2016


Following a 5 year break since the release of new material, Bristolian legends Massive Attack embark on their first fully fledged UK tour in as many years. Supported by the release of their new EP Ritual Spirit, the duo sought to bring a heavily politicised performance with a setlist split between old classics and relatively obscure, newer work.

Opening with ‘Battle Box’, a solo single from Robert Del Naja released in 2012, the lights descended to the darkened, bass-heavy tension of the track as it ebbed and flowed with the vocals of Martina Topley-Bird. The impressively expansive visual display behind the 7-strong live band flickered up names of pharmaceutical medicines backed with the bulk prices per pill. The band followed up with the Heligoland B-side ‘United Snakes’, with the screens this time strobing between the flags of countries and the logos of large multi-national corporations such as McDonalds and Goldman Sachs reimagined in red, black and white. Both performances leave a poignant message, even if it’s a little heavy-handed and Banksy-esque.

A highlight of the night included the hazed-out and hair-raising performance of Mezzanine’s ‘Risingson’, which was intimate and intense. Doing away with the cumbersome didactic themes of the night, the track flowed with a certain weightlessness to the positive response of the crowd. The band also brought out veritable legend Horace Andy who performed ‘Angel’ and ‘Girl I Love You’, both of which were clear crowd-pleasers with Andy’s dread-wise vocal delivery held an emotional note through the classic Bristolian bass weight.

A wholly unavoidable and staple point of the night, however, was the heavy inclusion of the current Syrian refugee crisis. The band offered up some truly horrifying statistics presented on the screens that highlighted the glaring failures of the British government to accept refugees—alongside more widespread terrors such as Sweden’s plan to evict 80,000 refugees. The subject matter was highly topical and unequivocally vital, but it caused a dissonant atmosphere throughout the show; almost questioning the audience as to how they could really be sitting there and enjoying the act when they are being shown photographic evidence of children drowning.

This had cut sharply throughout the staple song ‘Inertia Creeps’ where random headlines from the previous few days are flashed out above the band, which raised the topic of how issues with true gravity are diluted in a sea of tabloid wankery. However, the point became somewhat cheapened when headlines such as “Asylum seekers made to wear coloured wristbands in Cardiff” were mixed with “Porn shown at a funeral”.

It would be a cheap shot to say that missing certain songs from the set list—such as ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ is a crime. But for a band who have comfortably released a “Best Of” record ten years ago, there’s simply not enough room to include every “essential” song.

The recurring theme of the night seemed to be a top-notch musicality with a side of slightly discordant, heavy-handed activism. Perhaps not the carefree evening that many of the attendees may have hoped for, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.

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