Massive Attack in Toronto – A review

May 15, 2010 at 7:54 pm (Uncategorized)

A bit late, but… 

Massive Attack played their second Toronto show May 9 at the Sound Academy. I chose to go to this show rather than the Friday night one based on a couple of reasons. I expected the first show to sell out, and I generally prefer shows where there’s a little room to move. Second, I though having already done one show in Toronto and then having a day off would give the band a chance to work out any problems with the set. Guessed right.

Massive Attack have made some of the most vital and necessary music of the past two decades, but at a fairly slow pace. The current album, Heliogoland, is only their fifth.  Their third album, Mezzanine, is one of my all- time favourites, so I was fairly excited for the experience. Dance music for the head not the feet as Robert “3D” Del Naja  put it.

However, I was a little anxious about the Sound Academy. It was a venue I’d never been to, and I’d heard mixed reviews about the place.  The Sound Academy, formerly the Docks, is a 2,000 plus club, shaped a little like a shoebox. If you’re tall, you can manoeuvre for a good spot, but I pity anyone who’s under average height. It’s also hard to get to. It’s a cab ride or paying $15 for parking on site The fact that the car park is dead opposite the exit means that come closing time, getting out is a logistical nightmare. . 

On the other hand, the sound in the club is amazing. 

Martina Topley-Bird opened the show at about 9:15. She played a half-hour set of fairly laid back song, which were quiet but compelling. The last number, “Too Tough to Die” (a track from her 2004 album not the Ramones song of the same name) was a straight up rocker though. 

Then a half hour wait, and Massive Attack. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but they sure stated with a bang. “United Snakes”, the b-side of the “False Flags” EP, (and included on the deluxe edition of Heliogland.

Massive Attack basically consists of two guys Robert Del Naja (“3-D”) and Grant Marshall (“Daddy G”), both very cool, and assorted guest musicians.  Together with our two heroes, Massive Attack live had ten members, although not everyone was on stage at the same time.  Among the other players were the great Horace Andy, Matina Topley-Bird, Deborah Miller (for an outstanding “Unfinished Symphony”), along with guitarists, keyboard players and a couple of drummers.  

The stage show was spectacular. A series of boards which oddly enough reminded me of a Top of the Pops set broadcast a pulsating light show and a series of cryptic messages and quotations to inspire.

The late Howard Zinn featured prominently, but also included were Eugene Debs, Bobby Seal, Rosa Luxembourg and many more. Along with news clips, and what seemed like computer gibberish (to me at least). My favourite quotation was by Ibsen: when you go out to fight for truth and freedom, don’t wear your best trousers.

The band served up large helpings of Mezzanine and Heliogoland, in extended versions.  Highlights for me were “Air Atlas”, “Risingson” and the set-closing “Inertia Creeps.” MA’s best known song is probably the theme from House  “Teardrop”, and they did a marvellous version of that too, with Martina Topley-Bird singing lead.

The set was 75 minutes, followed by a brief break, then a half hour of encores. I don’t know if it was the break or the better weather, but it just seemed as if the band were into the show. When that happens, the audience picks it up, and it’s like a hurricane gathering strength.

Set list

United Snakes
Girl, I Love You
Future Proof
Invade Me
Safe From Harm
Inertia Creeps


Splitting The Atom
Unfinished Symphony
Atlas Air

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