Review: Massive Attack, Manchester Arena, January 29 2019

Massive Attack on stage at Manchester Arena
Massive Attack on stage at Manchester Arena
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Projected images of Saddam Hussein, Vladimir Putin and Tony Blair accompanied Massive Attack’s live “re-interpretation” of their 1998 album Mezzanine at Manchester Arena this week.

Film-maker Adam Curtis provided the visual backdrop on huge screens which sought to tell “the story of the strange journey we have all been on over the past twenty years since Mezzanine was released”.

Anyone who knows and enjoys Mezzanine - which reached number one in the UK albums chart in April ‘98 - will appreciate that this wasn’t a particularly “lively” concert.

I, like most of the 80s/90s kids in the audience managed a few head nods, sways and leg bends, but this was much more a listening and viewing exercise, and of course it was a Tuesday night.

Fuzzy, quiet beats filled the arena until 9pm, when all went quiet and dark - for a good 15 minutes - enough so that people wondered what was going on.

“Perhaps they’re having an argument”, I heard someone say. But then borderline blinding strobe lighting kicked in, and the band took to the stage to play a cover of The Velvet Underground’s I Found A Reason, which was nice.

Then came the haunting intro to Mezzanine’s Risingson, and the deep vocals of leather jacket clad founding member Grantley Evan Marshall AKA Daddy G, back and forth with co-founder Robert Del Naja. Then came a cover of The Cure’s 10:15 Saturday Night, before Mezzanine took over in full.

It was an absolute treat.

Jamaican reggae singer Horace Andy has most certainly lost none of his style and range, with vocal contributions on Man Next Door and the stunning album opening track Angel.

Former Cocteau Twins singer and longstanding Massive Attack contributor Elizabeth Fraser also joined the band onstage, her first performance for 12 years, for Black Milk, Group Four and the immortal Teardrop.

The music and the visuals were like a hand in glove, or more appropriately a handshake...Full review at www.lancasterguardian.co.uk.

Words rapidly appeared and disappeared on the screen, questions, statements, slogans, suggestions that we now live in a two dimensional world that is constantly telling us “if you like that, you’ll love this...”

Adam Curtis before the tour: “The show tells the story of the strange journey we have all been on over the past twenty years since Mezzanine was released: How we have moved into a strange backward-looking world, enclosed by machines that read our data and predict our every move, haunted by ghosts from the past”.

There were images of people dancing, people marching, human like dolls being created, and, several times, a bird pecking at a window.

A feast for the senses, it was depressing at times, and in many ways Mezzannine is a dark and lamenting album, a late night soul-search, but also full of strength and hope.

The music itself has lost none of its originality or resonance, pioneering beats and unplaceable samples and sounds that morph between natural and synthetic, plunging bass-lines, two drum kits, and crashing guitar reproduced Mezzanine faithfully and accurately.

The setlist also included rare performances of Exchange (last performed in 1998) and Dissolved Girl (first since ‘97), as well as a cover of Pete Seeger’s Where Have All the Flowers Gone featuring Elizabeth Fraser.

And then, after Group Four played out, all of a sudden it was over.

Less than an hour and a half of music, no introductions, no interaction with the audience, no encore, no “thanks for coming”.

I certainly left with the feeling that we haven’t heard the last of Massive Attack and the Bristol Massive, and that they’ve still got much more to say.

I first saw the band at V Festival in 1999, where they played tracks from their then three albums Blue Lines, Protection, and Mezzanine.

They’ve since released two more - 100th Window and Heligoland.

They’re now on a big European and American tour, ending at Ceremonia Festival in Mexico on June 4.