It isn’t hard to understand why Massive Attack’s audience veered towards the middle-aged at their Thursday night, sold-out concert at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. The group, a core duo of Robert “3D” Del Naja and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall, fleshed out on this night by dual percussionists, guitar, bass, and vocalist Martina Topley-Bird (along with a couple special guests), has been making music since the late ’80s, a fact that the majority of the Greek’s demographic underscored.
But Massive Attack doesn’t sound old, and they are not tired in their ambitions. Trip-hop, though the name itself sounds tired and dated, still sounds fresh and current long after it was first conceived. Though Tricky wasn’t on hand to perform opening song “Karmacoma”, originally released in 1994 on Protection, the last album to feature the revered vocalist as a guest (though rumors of his imminent return to collaborating with Massive Attack appear to have legs), members 3D and Daddy G handled Tricky’s parts with ease, making his absence an afterthought to the entirety of the experience. But the song wasn’t updated; it was presented faithfully to the original and still didn’t sound dusty or nostalgic. Maybe it was a trip down memory lane for the mom and pops in the crowd, but it didn’t have to be.
If anything, Massive Attack’s live presentation highlighted the here and now, particularly with the visual display that appeared later in the set. Beginning with “Jupiter”, the visual display, which early in the set was limited to oppressive binary code and heavy backlighting, began to push a message on the crowd. First was a back-and-forth from military personnel during a bombing. There was an endless parade of tweets splicing pop culture trash about Jennifer Lawrence’s diet with more serious messages about the Gaza Strip. Yet another display went with a barrage of Google searches, all highlighting the present times we live in, refusing to let the sold-out crowd disappear or escape in the music. Massive Attack’s live presentation was ultimately a mirror of 2014 society, one that maybe was preaching to the choir, and chose to focus on the darkness of present society and technophobia, rather than the humanity and warmth that we each experience on a daily basis. It’s hard to say we need more reminders of what is wrong with the world; maybe we need more opportunities to retreat from them? But Massive Attack made their position clear: that we retreat too much as is and that they had the opportunity with a captive audience to highlight their personal stance, which, at the end of the day, you can do nothing but respect.
The encore retreated a bit from the message-oriented latter half of the set, showcasing the music first and foremost. It began with “Splitting the Atom”, the only song of the night to feature both Topley-Bird and Daddy G onstage at the same time, followed by a surprise visit from Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio to perform “Pray for Rain” for the first time ever. The most enjoyable moment of the night was the last, a dance party finish with “Unfinished Sympathy”. In the end, Massive Attack showcased a number of different eras of their music, the evolution of their sound, and the span of their reach. They gave the Greek crowd a memorable, thoughtful, and fulfilling experience, rather than just playing the hits or relying on the most obvious, easy crowd-pleasing moments. As much as the evening was enjoyable, it was respectable, and as they continue their mini-tour with a TV on the Radio-supported show tonight in Santa Barbara and a headlining spot at this weekend’s Treasure Island Music Festival, fans are in for a treat, even if it makes you feel a little more worried for humanity in the end.
Psyche (Flash Treatment)
Angel (with Burial snippet)
Safe From Harm
Splitting the Atom
Pray for Rain w/Tunde Adebimpe