1st March | Steel Yard
Photos: Lee Ramsey
A tantalising spectacle – Massive Attack trade nostalgia for all-too-real projections of a dark and apocalyptic future.
Before the Bristol trip-hop icons had even set foot on stage, the surrounding speakers were a blast of hits from the year 1998. From Aerosmith’s soppy power ballad, ‘I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing’ to Cher’s ‘Believe’, the evening’s early atmosphere rippled with a gleeful flurry of nostalgia. However, this wry acknowledgement of the album’s twenty-one-year history was merely an ironic quip. For Massive Attack’s reprisal of their seminal 1998 release, Mezzanine, was far from a celebration of years gone by and a chance to ‘play the hits’ to satisfy fair-weather fans and substantial pay cheques. Instead, the band utilised the album’s inherent darkness to soundtrack the myriad of anxieties and underlying horrors the world faces today.
As the darkness descended on Bristol Steel Yard, the venue which Del Naja and Marshall had custom-built at Filton Airfield, an industrial sounding drone pulsed its way throughout the venue amongst a backdrop of hypnotic blue flickers and blinding, flashing lights. Then, in an extraordinary change of tone, the band broke into The Velvet Underground’s ‘I Found A Reason’. The chipper doo-wop tune referenced an idyllic future, with the constant refrain of “I found a reason to keep livin’.”
However, this initial sentimentality would soon be torn apart and deconstructed by Massive Attack’s portrayal of computerised darkness, corporate greed and empty political engineering, especially through the stunning array of visual effects directed by Adam Curtis, the film-maker behind BBC documentaries such as Hypernormalisation. The duo used the performance to evoke the idea of a world in collapse, with people lacking the want or agency to pull the wool from over their eyes and see beyond a world curated for them by spying governments and corporations. While in a way becoming more a form of visual art than a celebratory homecoming show, this did not matter. In fact, the show’s political premise and theme made for a more gripping, thought-provoking and essential live experience.
Massive Attack’s set saw the band perform the entirety of Mezzanine (although out of sequence from the album) as well as a handful of well-crafted covers. The covers, in particular, had their very own link to Mezzanine and its recording process, with the likes of ’10:15 Saturday Night’ by The Cure and Ultravox’s ‘Rockwrok’ being sampled by the band on tracks ‘Man Next Door’ and ‘Inertia Creeps’. The band’s cover of Ultravox proved jaw- dropping, adopting a punk-rock edge to a backdrop of news clippings referencing Donald Trump’s election to the White House. The performance’s visual element saw Curtis burrow further into today’s harrowing geo-political climate, with the faces of Trump and Putin beginning to morph into one another in a hauntingly terrorising stare.
Twenty-one years on, Mezzanine’s ethereal wave of ghostly compositions and angular, menacing guitar feedback was transformed into an even darker beast. The band plunged into the brooding ‘Inertia Creeps’ following a series of unfiltered and brutal images, titled ‘outside the pleasure dome the war continues’. The rather frank video footage highlighted bombing raids and uncovered dead bodies.
Massive Attack’s ‘Angel’ was a showcase in intense darkness, its industrial guitar work piercing the ears and minds of those in attendance. Elizabeth Fraser’s spellbinding performance on ‘Teardrop’ acted as the calm before the storm – a glimmer of light in an otherwise doom-laden and apocalyptic show. Yet in today’s current political climate, Massive Attack’s take on the world seemed somewhat apt. A band not afraid to utilise their past as a means of dealing with the crises of today.
See the video for ‘Angel’ here: