Wednesday 27th January 2016 – Leeds O2 Academy
Massive Attack with support from Young Fathers
Massive Attack should need little introduction to anybody who has even a passing interest in more leftfield styles of music. As one of the original pioneers of the Trip-Hop style (although apparently they dislike the term now) they have been responsible for numerous groundbreaking records such as Safe From Harm, Unfinished Sympathy, Angel and Paradise Circus.
Massive Attack have always been well known for their collaborations; including notable vocal tracks with the likes of Horace Andy, Shara Nelson, Tracey Thorn and Tricky. They are also a group that have been through various inclinations since their formation in 1988.
For these reasons their touring schedules can be sporadic and the lineup of their gigs and their setlists at performances are often unpredictable which adds to their enigma. Consequently I had never seen the band live before despite being a big fan of theirs ever since I first discovered their original and uplifting music in the early 90s. They have also always incorporated electronic instruments and a more varied palette of sounds than your typical guitar based band. Additionally they are one of few contemporary acts that have an outspoken political standpoint that forms part of their shows. Safe to say all of the above left me both excited and intrigued as to how the performance would turn out.
The UK part of the tour was taking place mainly in intimate venues. In Leeds the band had chosen to play the O2 Academy which is a historic venue with a capacity of around 2000, mainly in a stalls section facing the stage with a couple of hundred seats in a balcony around the top.
We first arrived at the venue at about 9PM, expecting Massive Attack to play from about 10/10.30PM. After grabbing some drinks we found a spot to watch support band Young Fathers playing to the slowly filling hall. Impressively they launched into some dramatic stage antics and uplifting layered vocals with offbeat percussion and a huge moog-like synthesiser generating aggresive analog basslines. It was easy to see why Massive Attack rated them highly enough to support them on the tour.
As Young Fathers finished to a huge LFO generated acidic synth line and rapturous applause we decided to hit the bar for a drink..big mistake! The venue had filled up rapidly and it was clear that the bar staff couldn’t cope. We waited in line at the bar for around half an hour whilst Massive Attack launched into their first few songs. As we finally got served we were stuck in the wings and although we could hear the songs to an extent we could barely see any of the band.
Resigned to defeat we went to grab a seat in a chill-out area and talked up a plan to see them later in the tour and plan our viewing area more appropriately! At that moment one of our friends appeared and we scored a last minute winner..he had somehow acquired a ticket for the balcony upstairs and knew of an elevator that could take us up there, no questions asked! 2 minutes later we had the best view in the house.
The band tonight consisted of the 2 current permanent members Robert Del Naja and Daddy G as well as backing band and guest vocalists. The set consisted of lots of new material from their recent EPs, all of which sounded fantastic to me. Typically layered percussion and distortion were accentuated by searing keys and synth lines; as difficult to pigeonhole as ever. Behind the band an LED screen flashed up political messages; in particular referring to the ongoing refugee crisis. However these were interspersed with irreverent statements and even the odd football score; showing that the band have a sense of humour and perhaps commenting on the need to find the truth in a world dominated by an agenda-driven media.
The power of the sound in terms of harmonics and dynamics was something that I haven’t experienced before in an intimate venue by any band. Towards the end of the set they launched into a couple of their most well known songs. Unfortunatly ‘teardrop’ dissappointed a little compared to the original, lacking some elegance in its delivery. However ‘Angel’ was the highlight of the show with the brilliant vocal performance of Horace Andy.
The Encore started with the ever brilliant “KarmaComa’ before the band invited Young Fathers back onto the stage to perform some of their recent collaborations. It was a nice touch and seemed like a case of the band ‘handing on the baton’ to the new act. The night finished to a very good reception although I know some people commented about the lack of some classic hits; in particular Unfinished Symphony. As much as I would have liked to hear it myself I can appreciate the band wanting to play such a huge track sparingly. As the crowd left the hall the images of Giles Duley were displayed on the big screen..hard-hitting photos of the refugee crisis.
Overall it was probably the best performance I have seen by a band. However it was let down slightly by the venue (too busy and poor service) and if we hadn’t made it onto the balcony it would have been a waste of a ticket. Glastonbury-like performances of Teardrop and Unfinished Sympathy would have been welcome but hopefully I’ll catch them at a festival one day!
If you get chance to see them…go!
-Review by Rory Flynn