wed 17/08/2022

Massive Attack, Steel Yard Bristol review - propaganda and pomp | reviews, news & interviews

Massive Attack, Steel Yard Bristol review - propaganda and pomp

Massive Attack, Steel Yard Bristol review - propaganda and pomp

Music with a message that shoots itself in the foot

Robert del Naja (3D), left, and Grant Marshall (Daddy G)

Massive Attack have travelled a long way from the Dugout, the Bristol bar where the collective first tried their hand at spinning discs for a crowd whose cultural mix reflected the constant ferment of one of Britain’s most vibrant cities.

The city welcomed them back, warmly as it will always do, at the Steel Yard, a vast purpose-built performance space in Filton, home of the Rolls Royce works that make jet engines for Boeing, still vibrant with the ghosts of the engineers and fitters that helped create Concorde, that symbol of European cooperation and future progress.

Massive Attack’s set, accompanied by film material directed by Adam Curtis in collaboration with Robert del Naja, poses some alarming questions about the way technological progress has changed the world we live in, and threatens to change it even more. The first of many contradictions arises out of the high-tech nature of the show: multi-screen projections, elaborate and often stunning lighting effects, words and phrases flashing behind and alongside the band momentarily touch our consciousness – who knows, perhaps below the level of consciousness as the best and worst of advertising, but reaching us all the same.

The well-meaning show both attacks propaganda and the marketing of celebrities, politicians and ideas through the images that bombard us all in every possible medium, and yet uses the very techniques it seeks to undermine: Massive and Curtis offer something close to a Situationist critique of the web of images that make up the ceaseless and manipulated spectacle that masquerades as reality. But the medium is the message, as McLuhan so aptly put it: you cannot so easily escape the "spectacle", and the flashing of images and the sensationalistic montage of contradictory and shocking visuals is much too seductive, not least to an audience addicted to tasty and ultimately superficial morsels of information and imagery through obsessive attention to social media. That seduction is at the heart of the vast confidence trick which we have bought into, and which Adam Curtis and Massive Attack so vehemently and paradoxically criticise.

Massive Attack haven’t been as creative a force as they were at the end of the last century

The show marks the 21st anniversary of the release of Mezzanine, the group’s most successful production. It wasn’t as original and innovative as Blue Lines or Protection, and marked a change from the laid-back feel of the first two albums, with samples from new wave groups and a much edgier feel to the music. At the Steel Yard, “Angel”, “Rising Son” and “Teardrop” were the tracks that stood out. The music remains gripping, with an urgency that the passing years hasn't too seriously eroded. The best moment comes with “Inertia Creeps”, perhaps one of Massive’s best tracks, with its cliff-edge suspense, anthemic moments and pulsating beat. The band are joined more than once by the ever-reliable Liz Fraser of the sultry moods, and Horace Andy with his touching high tenor. They fill in as Del Naja and Grant Marshall’s talents lie not so much in song as in the menacing whispered rap that made Massive and Tricky, their former colleague, so famous. There are moments in between the well-known tracks from Mezzanine, all of them connected to the sources of inspiration or sampling on the original album, moments of power guitar and rock histrionics, that fit in surprisingly well with the sombre atmosphere of the album’s more familiar material.

This return to Mezzanine, as can often be the case with musicians that perform a whole album from the past, reflects the fact that Massive Attack haven’t been as creative a force as they were at the end of the last century. There’s a lack of real presence or risk in the show – for all the flashes of high energy and excitement – as if old ground were being revisited. There were few moments when you felt genuine excitement from the performers. The images of Tony Blair, Trump, Putin, the British royal family, Saddam Hussein and other figures of horror and ridicule are fun to see, and just what you would expect with a left-leaning band and film-maker such as Adam Curtis (pictured below), but this wasn't enough to raise the performance above the level of a highly polished return to music of the past.

Perhaps most indicative of the contradictions at the heart of a show that might have worked better without the often portentous sloganeering from Curtis, who cannot resist telling us what to think rather than allowing for the free flow of the imagination, was the constant presence of eagerly raised camera phones. The trophy-recording of so-called momentous events – often then posted on Instagram or Facebook – is symptomatic of the same forces of entrapment that Massive Attack and Adam Curtis are clamouring about so loudly. They know this, of course, as some of the slogans and images make clear. We are prisoners of our desire; freedom beckons, but more often than not as an illusory lure manipulated by the multinationals who control our wishes and promote yet more expenditure on things we do not need.

Later that night, there was a reggae and bluebeat night at the Plough Inn in Easton, Bristol’s most vibrant and multicultural community. The pub, a warm and welcoming gathering place for the neighbourhood, was filled with people enjoying the music and company. Perfect DJ'ing from Steve Rice and the Downbeat Melody Sound System.There was laughter, good humour and dancing, as the bass-heavy music thudded away sensually. This was the creative mix from which the Wild Bunch collective of DJs – later to form Massive Attack – originally grew. No slogans here: just the experience of living together in something very close to harmony, at a time when the world at large is so short of empathy.  Not a camera phone in sight, and an altogether more heart-warming experience than the right-on pomp at the Steel Yard a few hours before.



The show might have worked better without the portentous sloganeering from Curtis, who cannot resist telling us what to think


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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