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- Posted on May 12th 2010 10:00AM by Kenneth Partridge
"They say you get what you deserve," co-founder Robert "3D" Del Naja told the packed concert hall, referencing the day's top news story. "Tonight, you've got us."
Presumably, Del Naja, a native of Bristol, England, isn't thrilled about David Cameron taking office. Famously outspoken, Massive Attack have made politics central to this latest tour, and throughout Tuesday's show, the pioneering trip-hop collective used its elaborate stage setup -- rows and rows of horizontal bars, outfitted with multicolored LED lights -- to broadcast revolutionary slogans, quotes from likeminded thinkers (Howard Zinn, Malcolm X, etc.) and various facts and figures.
If Massive Attack are angry, though, it doesn't show it, at least not in the way a lefty punk group might. Its songs are shockingly coolheaded: slow-burning exercises in Nyquil hip-hop and apocalyptic soul, set to skittering beats and thunderous, minimalist dub-reggae bass. To create their signature sound, Del Naja and co-founder Grant "Daddy G" Marshall performed alongside two drummers, a guitarist, a bassist, a manipulator of various electronic devices and a rotating cast of lead singers.
The best of the band's mouthpieces was Horace Andy, the Jamaican roots-reggae veteran who has worked with Massive Attack since its 1991 debut, 'Blue Lines.' Andy surfaced four songs into Tuesday's set, lending a mystical howl to 'Girl, I Love You,' from the group's recently released fifth album, 'Heliogland.'
Martina Topley-Bird, previously known for her work with Tricky, fared nearly as well, singing 'Babel' and 'Psyche' with an unhurried, even-keel intensity. Her foil was Deborah Miller, the soul powerhouse and longtime touring member brought out to sing such standouts as 'Safe From Harm' and 'Unfinished Sympathy.' Miller recorded neither of those 'Blue Lines' cuts -- on the record, it's Shara Nelson -- but at Terminal 5, she took ownership of both. On 'Sympathy,' she was heartache personified, building to two climactic high notes that drowned out the electro accoutrements.
On the penultimate 'Atlas Air,' Del Naja appeared in silhouette against a backdrop of corporate logos. As the song throbbed and throbbed, he shadowboxed with the apples and golden arches flashing behind him. He was punching, but more than that, he was dancing.