A couple of months ago, I decided I was done with Massive Attack following their decision to ask the BBC not to broadcast any of their Glastonbury set. To quote a famous lyricist from Oxford,
“For a minute there, I lost myself”
In the meantime, unbeknownst to me, Jo had already bought tickets for us to go and see them with her dad, John, as a joint birthday present for the two of us.
It didn’t take too long to park my objections.
The Journey, Grace, Jarvis and The Queue For Food
Yesterday, the big day came around and we set off on the very short journey from our home in Downham to Blackheath. Even this short journey caused a problems, bus carnage in Lewisham saw John getting on a bus without us. He was nowhere to be seen when Jo and I eventually made it to the ‘heath, but we headed for the entrance, got him on the phone and, finally, we were reunited.
Having had a couple of liveners, we made our way over to the main stage, which was soon filled by Grace Jones. As she began her set, telling us she didn’t like the daylight and thought of herself as a “Vampi-ya!”, Jarvis Cocker wandered past us. I momentarily forgot myself and shouted “Jarvis!” as if I knew him, but he didn’t hear me. Or he did hear me, but ignored me. Whatever, I wasn’t about to get all Alan Partridge on him. I didn’t know much of Grace’s music, but I thought she was a terrifically engaging performer, and the music was great. Nonetheless, we were hungry and the queues were huge, so we left Grace singing Pull Up To My Bumper. Fish n’ chips for me, chicken and chips for Jo and John and I was able to watch Grace hula hooping through what seemed like the rest of her set.
The fish was worth the half hour wait, apparently the chicken wasn’t.
Massive Attack Take The Stage
However, we weren’t there for the food. Well, I wasn’t. I was there to see the boys from Bristol. They arrived on stage at around 9pm, Martina Topley-Bird, quietly emerging as the star of the Massive Attack live show for me, singing what sounded like a new song. I have no idea what she was singing. But sometimes that doesn’t matter and the same was true with the following track, the pulsating United Snakes. The screens behind the band a rapid display of logos.
Everyone knew what was being sung as Daddy G joined 3-D onstage for 1997’s Risingson. It’s a funny thing, but I think I have become so familiar with the Mezzanine songs and their live iterations that they seem to have lost their impact. A little. I found the Martina sung Paradise Circus, with its woozy groove and honeyed vocals, much more affecting and it had me close to tears. The juxtaposition of Horace Andy’s impassioned cry, “If you love me that much, you will stiiiiiiiiiick around!” with the statistics telling us about the amount of refugees being displaced from the Lebanon I also found quite affecting. It is possible, I suppose, that some will have found this a bit over the top, whilst some may not have noticed at all. Everybody shut up for five minutes for Teardrop, which- whilst it’s asking a lot for anyone to match up to Liz Fraser’s original vocal- Martina sang beautifully. And- hey, what’s this, a crowd singalong? Truly, a new phenomenon in the Massive Attack live show.
Jo and I have seen Massive Attack probably about ten times now and I can’t remember a time when I have ever thought that they weren’t quite on it, or this is a little dull or that the sound was a bit off. Having seen them three times outdoors, one of things that really impresses is how good the sound is. Perhaps it’s having a bass player like Winston Blissett, a guitarist like Angelo Bruscini. Or maybe it’s the two drummers.
This all comes together on the first dispatch from 100th Window, Future Proof. Over time, I have come to regard 100th Window as Massive’s weakest album, although that- in a way- is like choosing a favourite Arsenal player from Vieira, Henry, Bergkamp, Pires and Wright. However, Future Proof, with its endlessly spiralling guitar and the rush of beats took me back, waaaaay back to 2003/04 and where it all began for me and Jo. We owe quite a lot to this band, you know.
An unexpected highlight of the set, and after 11 years watching this band, the odd surprise is nice now and again, was the introduction of Martina’s own song Poison into the set. Given the Massive treatment, it didn’t sound too much like the jazzy original but it was no worse for that. Something else given a makeover was Psyche. Transformed from the delicate guitars of the album version into an electronic dirge… hang on that makes it sound bad, doesn’t it? It wasn’t, at all. It sounded brilliant.
Inertia Creeps, backed up by the “news” headlines, signalled that Deborah Miller and the end of the main set was imminent. Inertia was never one of my favourite Mezzanine tracks, but it takes on a new life in a live environment, the pounding drums getting the crowd going just in time for… the set highlight. Safe. From. Harm.
Just typing those three words gives me goosebumps. Just thinking back to last night, I have a lump in my throat and tears pricking my eyes. Honestly, I think I could hear this song every night for the rest of my life and not get bored. I’m always impressed by Miller’s presence on stage, whilst D’s line “I was looking back to see if you were looking back at me to see me looking back at you” always results in knowing looks exchanged between me and Jo. But, for me, it’s Angelo Bruscini’s guitar, always, that gives this song its transcendental power.
I can’t remember the last time Massive didn’t end a set with this song, which is wise because the only way you can follow it is by taking a breather, or going home. Nobody wanted to go home just yet.
The Andy sung Everywhen was an opportunity to take a couple of photos, despite the ridiculously tall guy in front of me, with his crane like arm. And then it was Daddy G to the front of stage for a rendition of Splitting The Atom which I would have gone home very happy on. But Massive Attack know where their bread is buttered and so the honour of closing Massive’s first London gig for a few years fell, obviously, to the immortal Unfinished Sympathy. Despite its all time classic status, it’s not my favourite Massive song by any means, but I defy anyone to stand and watch Miller sing “Like a soul without a mind/ in a body without a heart/ I’m missing every part” as Will Malone’s string arrangement unfolds and not… well, get a little emotional.
As the band took their final bows to huge cheers and applause, I found myself fighting to hold back the tears. When John went for a piss and Jo and I had a couple of moments to myself, I folded myself into her arms and let those tears go.
It was that kind of night. Thank you, Massive Attack.