It’s almost two years to the day since I described the Pet Shop Boys as being the most relevant electronic band.
If nothing else; that’s a pretty ballsy, definitive, statement to make.
But one which I think needs re-addressing… slightly… and with enough caveats to make myself feel better about changing my mind.
Whilst still believing that the PSB’s push electronic music and performance harder than any other band (5 studio albums and 4 world tours in the past decade), I also believe that (when factoring in social and political influences) it’s Massive Attack who walk away with the ‘most relevant’ title.
For a band almost 30 years old MA’s core artistic vision remains totally aligned to the social and political roots of their 2-tone, post-punk, hip-hop, reggae and punk schooling’s. That’s not a mean feat in days where soundtracks, cover albums, electronic hardware and department stores are all scrambling to provide cash in exchange for artistic endorsement and credibility.
Massive Attack come with a full visual experience; they have deeply moving images and wordplay- providing a backdrop that is loaded with political ideas and idealisms. Part Jenny Holzer, part zoo-tv, but 100% Massive Attack in it’s ambition and it’s technique of cutting and pasting together favored influences in a way which is challenging and provocative. Visually stunning we are asked to consider what is news, where it comes from and how is it presented. Tales of Donald Trump overlap tales of refugee crises which overlap protests about tonight’s gig which overlap tabloid-spun stories.
Just what are we paying attention to and how is it effecting us?
This is an interesting question, and given the sensory overload of the show, one which could apply to the gig itself.
Musically Massive Attack provide field-shaking baselines for the 27,000 capacity crowd to dance to; as is standard they form their music through a dark, artistic, approach to reggae and hip hop whilst adding soul vocals on top. King of the collaborators, we are treat to soul courtesy of 3d (surely one of the leading artists of the last millennium) and Daddy G as well as Horace Andy, Azekal, Young Fathers, Tricky and Deborah Miller. Horace provides the wisdom, Young Father the energy and Tricky the ego (repeated shouts of ‘i’m home’ across his version of ‘Take you there’ put this close to his Beyonce appearance– which seems a shame given that the crowd appear desperate for this to be as much a homecoming for Tricky Kid as for Massive Attack).
Deborah, with the final song, provides the heartbreak, leading on unfinished sympathy- a song once described as ‘music that weeps as it dances’. It’s magical.
The old guard take charge of musical proceedings- 3d takes musical director lead- popping and fizzing with each sound and drum beat; Daddy G provides the calm. Both provide moments of scratching and dj skills. Both embrace early in a subtle, but warming, moment.
Giving 4 tracks to Young Fathers seems a little bit of a stretch. It’s also a shame that we never got to see Mushroom, or Sinead, or Tracey, or Martina, or Hope, a Bowie tribute, or the Giles Doley final video play-out. It’s also a shame that we never got ‘Teardrop’ or my favorite ‘Live with Me’ (though the video has made me equally as scared about the song as in love with it).
But who am I? You rely on an artist to curate their own gig. In this case there simply is too much of a back catalouge for Massive Attack to keep everyone happy.
I find watching Massive Attack’s first live show in Bristol for 12 years like attending the wedding of a partners’ family. I’m made to feel incredibly welcome, I’m able to participate in a huge celebration, and yet I feel like other people are receiving something even more than I am. Massive Attack belong to Bristol. They belong to the people at the gig. I watch as a friend not a relative.
But this is a wedding we will all talk about for years. And when we do, they’ll still be the most relevant band around.