As I write this, the new Massive Attack tour has just played its first few opening shows for the year. So undoubtedly, its an exciting time for fans! If you've been following me on Twitter or Google+, then you should have some idea what to expect (i.e the setlist for this year).
I would also advise following the newly opened Instagram account that Massive Attack have setup to publish photos from this year's tour and hopefully beyond.
However for this post I'm not going to be discussing the 2014 tour as such, and more just offering up my own top 10 moments (with video evidence courtesy of YouTube!), of Massive Attack performing live from their birth as a live band in the mid-nineties, up until last year's controversial Adam Curtis co-production. I tried to make a selection of live videos from as wide a range of years and songs as possible.
This list is chronological in order and I hope will give an idea about how much Massive Attack has evolved as a live unit over the last two decades nearly, while also getting the anticipation up for seeing them in 2014!
And if you want to relive more live moments of Massive Attack you should check out this YouTube playlist of live videos and this SoundCloud profile I started last year, of which I am continually updating with high quality downloads of live audio material.
Without further ado then...
Lets get the ball rolling with the Massive Attack classic Unfinished Sympathy. In all its live incarnations I've seen, this one from the Protection tour back in 1996 is the most spectacular and bombastic, owing to having a live orchestra on stage, conducted by none other than Craig Armstrong, who had previously worked with Massive Attack on the Protection album and was also signed to Massive Attack's now defunct Melankolic label at the time.
The live strings really helps elevate this into a amazing experience. Would loved to have been at this performance, but the video above will have to suffice.
We also of course, have Deborah Miller, filling in for Shara Nelson's vocals. Deborah has toured with Massive Attack since 1995, only missing out on the 2004 and 2008 tours. I think at this stage she deserves to get her own Massive Attack song, don't you think?
There's lots of good videos up online from the Mezzanine tour, but I choose this one as its Inertia Creeps (one of my live favourites) and the little introduction by 3D at the beginning, bigging up their Bristol contemporaries like Portishead and Roni Size is a nice touch. The energy and verve from the album version always translates well on stage with Inertia Creeps, in my opinion.
I do find it kind of funny in this video (and most of the other Mezzanine tour videos as well), that Mushroom is just standing there with tambourine in one hand looking kind of awkward. I think the big shift in being a DJ-ing soundsytem to a proper live band didn't agree with him at all, and was probably the one of many reasons why he would shortly leave the band afterwards.
Another performance with live strings on stage much like the Unfinished Sympathy clip, only this time instead of a full orchestra, its a solo performance from the talented Lucy Wilkins. The 2003 100th Window tour was the only year she toured with Massive Attack. I believe nowadays she tours with Roxy Music.
Either way this is a great video, as is evidence of how awesome Antistar is live and how it should be brought back onto the setlist. Even though it would probably need a live violinist on stage to give it that something extra like it does here.
Also as a sidenote, the 2003 tour saw the introduction of the LED screen backdrop with visuals and data tailored to whatever locale Massive Attack were currently playing. This impressive feat was engineered by the guys over at UVA Studios, who returned after this tour to help design the stage visuals for all of Massive Attack's subsequent tours since.
Typically always the 2nd song on most live setlists, Risingson when performed live is always a good way to ease you into the show after the opener. It also great to see some of the interplay between 3D and Daddy G on stage.
This particular video is from the Scotish festival "T In The Park", and offers a lovely late evening backdrop for Massive Attack's music, which would only gets darker as the night wears on.
The bass player in the video is Winston Blisset, who is another long term member of Massive Attack's touring team. Gotta love those first few opening bass notes on Risingson.
A special unique version of Karmacoma (actually the Portishead remix), that was performed for a one-off charity gig jointly headlined by both Massive Attack and their fellow trip-hop peers - Portishead. The concert was held in the Bristol Academy in Feburary 2005 and was simultaneously live streamed on the internet for fans across the globe (something of which I partaked in!).
Of the 7 tracks Massive Attack performed that night, my favourite from what I saw would be Karmacoma. The Portishead remix is just too awesome for words This remix of Karmacoma would also go onto be the only Massive Attack song performed during the Massive Attack V Adam Curtis shows in 2013).
In the video above we have Arian Utley of Portishead, Damon Albarn of Blur, and Massive Attack's co-producer Neil Davidge (the only time I believe he was ever on stage with Massive Attack), all jamming away. Something that almost certainly will never be repeated again. If you like the video, you can watch the whole concert from that night here on YouTube.
Of all the videos on this list, this was the only one I was in person for, and it might just be my favourite for that. Safe From Harm has always been a highlight for me on the live setlist anyway, but in particular its the 2nd half of its live version, when Angelo Bruschini on guitar takes over and overloads the song with massive amounts of reverb and feedback before a rip roaring climax that makes it into something truly special.
You should also check out this live recording of Safe From Harm from 2006 here on Soundcloud. Its the same arrangement as in the video and is in even better sound quality for you to enjoy.
07. Angel (Glastonbury Festival 2008)
Another signature Massive tune, and this probably the best video I've seen of it - Horace Andy and co performing to the tens of thousands of huddled masses at the iconic Glastonbury Festival, almost a home show if you will. What works here is the combination of the intense strobe lighting from the screen with the singular rip-rattling wall of bass from the speakers. It all works together at overwhelming the senses in a good way.
The one thing I would like to see changed about how Angel is performed live currently is to bring back the extended intro from the Mezzanine tour (which can be sampled here). Really ups the sense of menace and foreboding of the track even further...
Future Proof has been the one consistent entry from the 100th Window album to have been featured on every tour since 2003, and it shows as its a great show-stopper. It would have been interesting to see some of the reactions of the Japanese crowd, but oh well. This video from Japan's Fuji Rock festival in 2010 showcases that. Good buildup and a even better climax. Also that Matrix style wall of 1's and 0's flowing down the screen is real eye-catching.
There's also a similar proshot video of Future Proof from the same Japanese festival back in 2003. Compare the two and see which one is better.
Who thought a song about rendition flights could be such a crowd pleaser? Atlas Air would be my favourite track from the Heligoland album and live that translated to it being my favourite track played on the 2009/2010 tour. The screen backdrop with all the flight information is strangely compelling, as well as the corporate logos and distorted flags flashed across the screen in the climax of the song.
The highlight though has to be 3D dancing like a madman on stage during the whole climax especially when the keyboard riff comes back in. Also props too to John Baggot on keyboards who totally owns it here.
No real proshot video material from last year's Massive Attack V Adam Curtis has been released (and neither is there any desire it seems to release a DVD or such), so I had to resort to an audience recording for the last entry in this list.
The MAVAC shows were certainly a very unique and enigmatic production. Different people responded to it in different ways. Probably the biggest controversy for myself at least was the (nearly) lack of any Massive Attack songs, being instead a series of covers soundtracked to Adam Curtis's documentary film.
When I saw the show in Manchester, the indisputable musical highpoint of the night for me was the cover of Suicide's Dream Baby Dream, overlayed by moments of mass destruction from Hollywood films such as Independence Day and Armageddon. A Massive Attack indeed!
OK so that's this list over. Hopefully this list will serve you as a bit of a refresher before seeing Massive Attack live this year. Tell me what you think? Is there any songs you would have included?
P.S. - You might have noticed too that I conspicuously left Teardrop over my Top 10 live list. . That's because the song just doesn't do it for me live. Its great on record, don't get me wrong, but live its always faltered, even with Elizabeth Fraser there. Even though, that's probably another blog post for another time...