One man struggles while another relaxes. The lyric from Massive Attack’s Hymn of the Big Wheel is an all too fitting epigraph for their gig at the Brixton Academy this evening.
Not only does it capture the dichotomy that The Hoping Foundation, who the concert was in aid of, is trying to alleviate in its work with children in Palestinian refugee camps but also highlights the duality behind the band; the pugnacious, 3D Robert Del Naja and the taller, laid back Grant Marshall.
The Bristol trip hoppers went down a storm in South London with their mix of somnambulant soul, DJ cuts, dub and reggae – the backdrop to a million all-back-to-mine after parties. Protection and Bluelines won the crowd over and gave them what they came for, the rap bombardment of Karmacoma, the soaring orchestra of Unfinished Sympathy, and the most haunting love song ever written, Safe from Harm.
The soulful Horace Andy was still as smooth as ever, and former Cocteau Twin Liz Fraser’s ethereal voice on Teardrop was hypnotic and broke through the dark beats. Tricky being replaced by Marshall on Karmacoma felt a bit like a rip off.
Mezzanine was drawn on heavily throughout the set and when the tracks from 100th Window were mixed in these thrashy, confrontational sonic pummelings left the crowd cold.
Even though it was a charity benefit gig, I couldn’t help but wince at Massive Attack’s engagement with (pop) politics no matter how important the cause. Looking around at the masses and breathing in the sensimilia fug, if you weren’t getting high or being passively seduced by it, you were pilled off your nut engaged in a dance-a-thon.
People weren’t here for the message, they were here for the music. Little consciousness was raised by Massive Attack’s grand LED backdrop that flashed up the horrifying morbidity statistics from the Israel / Palestine conflict as the music played.
But for all his proselytising, Del Naja seemed a little confused: spreading a message of peace and love while wearing a Second World War RAF jacket. Towards the end of the set he also came out with the gob-smackingly crass comment: “Things aren’t all bad in the Middle East. We may have occupied their territories, carved up their land but at least we went back for their fucking break beats.” I had to pick my jaw off the floor.
What Massive Attack do best is Protection and Bluelines, everything else left me disinterested and I couldn’t help feeling that this gig was nothing but a shadow of their former selves, no matter how spectacular the light show.