Okay, I’ve been sitting on this Massive Attack post for close to a month and a half. I’ve got no real excuse, other than I just wasn’t into the writing of it. I’ve also been of a mixed mind on this show, which took place at the beginning of September at the Hollywood Palladium, rescheduled from its original March date, 09.04.19 to be exact. I’m not sure what caused the delay, other than an unspecified “illness” listed in the press. Whatever the case, anticipation was extremely high … and perhaps a bit too much so.
This tour marks the 20th anniversary of their seminal trip hop album “Mezzanine,” featuring original vocalists Horace Andy and Elizabeth Fraser, the latter of which I was incredibly excited about. Just to hear her sing “Teardrop” live would be worth the price of admission alone. But like I was saying, I’ve been on the fence, as to my opinion on the overall outcome of the show.
Massive Attack, with their full band, including two drummers, sounded as great and tightly knit as you’d hope they’d be. And their visual performance was filled with subversive imagery and messaging that would appease even the snobbiest of art snobs. Honestly, I’m still not exactly sure how they fit all those LED screens, along with all the band members, on that mid-sized Palladium stage.
But that wasn’t the problem. It’s more the show’s format, which I didn’t know about going in. As promised, “Mezzanine” was performed in its entirety. But it was done out of album order, and interspersed with various cover songs from The Cure, Bauhaus, The Velvet Underground, and even the late Avicii. Odd.
And to be fair, the covers were great, more faithful than you’d expect, and probably appropriate for their impact on Massive Attack of that era … all except for Avicii’s “Levels,” which came out 13 years after “Mezzanine.” Maybe they just like that one. Not sure.
But I think that’s my problem with it. I wasn’t sure of the context for featuring these particular cover songs for nearly half the set. Honestly, as immaculate as they were, I still would’ve preferred some original material, either old or new, released or unreleased. It’s just kind of strange to start out with The Velvet Underground’s “I Found a Reason,” segue into their own “Risingson,” then switch back to The Cure’s “10:15 Saturday Night.” The Cure didn’t play that one at their own Pasadena Daydream the previous month, so fair enough, I guess.
Anyway, that’s why I’m of two minds on this one. For context, here’s a few of the covers performed, including the already mentioned three. I’ve also featured an excerpt of their rendition of Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” which we’ll get to hear directly from the source next month, when the seminal goth rock band reunite at the very same venue. Also, the Avicii track transitions directly into the concluding “Mezzanine” track “Group Four,” which I might add is pretty darn incredible live. And it’s a Liz Fraser moment to boot.
Check ’em out.
Massive Attack perform The Velvet Underground’s “I Found a Reason” at the Hollywood Palladium on 09.04.19.
Massive Attack perform The Cure’s “10:15 Saturday Night” at the Hollywood Palladium on 09.04.19.
Massive Attack perform Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” at the Hollywood Palladium on 09.04.19.
Massive Attack perform Avicii’s “Levels,” and their own “Group Four” at the Hollywood Palladium on 09.04.19.
Now that I’ve moved past the cover portion of this coverage, let’s get into the real reason for this long awaited performance. It’s been a whopping twenty years, actually twenty-one, if we’re going to be technical, since the debut of “Mezzanine.” I think it was twenty, when Massive Attack originally announced the tour late last year.
So this is the stuff we’ve all been anticipating, since tickets first went on sale, and since the near six month delay. And this part didn’t disappoint. It was just out of order from the original track listing, and as mentioned, interspersed amongst numerous covers.
That aside, the show felt deliberately paced, somewhat conceptual, and fairly artsy. It was less a nostalgic trip hop show, and more a reimagined audio-visual experience. In other words, it felt like a predetermined conceptual performance versus a spontaneous live concert. That’s cool. Just a little unexpected. And to be fair, Massive Attack has always had a bit of that in them. But they usually swing more towards the latter, than the former.
Still, it was great to see Horace Andy do “Angel” and “Man Next Door.” The guy’s 68 years old and he’s still got it. And then there’s Liz Fraser, who I haven’t seen perform since the Cocteau Twins some thirty years ago. I think she joined Massive Attack on a few previous tours, none of which I had the opportunity to attend. So witnessing her perform “Black Milk” and “Teardrop” was an essential bucketlist moment. Check!
Anyway, here’s most of the “Mezzanine” selections from the show, with the exception of the above featured “Group Four,” and “Dissolved Girl,” which was the only track that didn’t feature a live vocalist. I’m not the biggest fan of pre-recorded vocal tracks, which Massive Attack tends to do when the given vocalist is unavailable … and even if the musicianship behind the instrumental portion is of such a strong caliber. It just kinda bugs me, and I find it hard to look past. So I skipped it.
I don’t recall the particular setlist order, since they were mixed up, interspersed and alternated between the assortment of cover songs, some of which you’ve just experience. So I’ve thrown everything in the original album order, minus the aforementioned “Group Four,” since it makes the most sense.
Also, I’m not going to throw a setlist at the end of this, since it’s basically everything from “Mezzanine,” and a bunch of covers, none of which have been released in Massive Attack format. And although the originals are great, since they are the originals, I think it’s fair to say they’d only make sense in the context of this post if the covers were recorded and released by Massive Attack. Maybe they will some day. But until then, the four above featured cover clips will have to do.
So here they are. The audio tends to waver a bit, probably due to some iPhone noise cancelling bullshit. But the picture’s great, since I was upfront stage-left, or audience-right. I’ve also got a giant LED screen right in front, which makes for extra added visual intensity.
I guess, now that I’ve had a think on the whole thing, I did enjoy Massive Attack’s performance more than not. I was just hoping for extraordinary, and ended up with pretty good.
Check it out below and see what you think.
Massive Attack perform “Angel” at the Hollywood Palladium on 09.04.19.
Massive Attack perform “Risingson” at the Hollywood Palladium on 09.04.19.
Massive Attack perform “Teardrop” at the Hollywood Palladium on 09.04.19.
Massive Attack perform “Inertia Creeps” at the Hollywood Palladium on 09.04.19.
Massive Attack perform “Exchange” at the Hollywood Palladium on 09.04.19.
Massive Attack perform “Man Next Door” at the Hollywood Palladium on 09.04.19.
Massive Attack perform “Black Milk” at the Hollywood Palladium on 09.04.19.
Massive Attack perform “Mezzanine” at the Hollywood Palladium on 09.04.19.
Massive Attack’s seminal 1998 trip-hop album “Mezzanine,” featured here as the 2019 remastered edition.