After circling the ginormous Centre Bell trying to find the right door for the media entrance, I arrive two (?) songs into Thievery Corporation’s set, listening while the slinky grooves and tinny sitar strains of “Lebanese Blonde” taunt me through the walls… damn you, lousy sense of direction. Thankfully, the Thievery folks seemingly happen to love the photogs, letting us shoot the whole show sans hassle from security … so I do. Good times.
Boasting almost as many rotating contributors as your average Montréal indie orchestra (!) Thievery Corp. put on one of the most high-energy opening acts I’ve seen in a long time – not surprisingly, as it would be hard to hold back the exuberant buzz of their dub-and-bhangra strut. Although I would say their sound is better suited to smaller, more intimate venues – the audience nestled into the demi-arena was one of the more reserved ones I’d seen in Montréal – they still managed to fill the space with their mix of bossa nova, world beat and dub, coming across like a martini lounge lost in the middle of a Shangri-La head shop. I’m honestly surprised (disappointed?) there wasn’t more ganja-infused revelry in the crowd. School night, I guess.
Thievery’s more political side showed its face towards the end of their set, as they began their encore with “Vampire”, a departure from the normally buoyant vibe in its frank political tone – “Lies and Theft / Guns and Debt / Life and Death / IMF,” which finds the band reconciling the task of staying true to their progressive politics while keeping the tone from getting too heavy or preachy. By no means is the song a light take on the subject of manufactured debt and manipulative lending to developing nations as a threat to their political autonomy – but damned if people couldn’t still dance to it.
On the slightly darker side of the emotive spectrum, Massive Attack – here with original members Robert Del Naja & Grant Marshall, joined on vox by the ethereal Martina Topley-Bird & Horace Andy – opened a chill window on the lush vibe created by the openers, taking the set to a darker place with the crashing, frenetic opener “United Snakes,” an orphan track originally released on a deluxe-edition of Heligoland on iTunes.
Their set selected heavily from both their latest release, Heligoland, and 1998’s moody trip-hop standard, Mezzanine, with a few unreleased tracks tossed in between. Massive Attack’s set stood in stark contrast to the ambiance that Thievery Corp. had warmed up, sidling from the haunted dystopian odyssey of “Future Proof” – the only track from 100th Window to make an appearance – to “Splitting the Atom,” an eldritch circus with Marshall’s deep murmur sprechgesang over a looping sad-clown organ. While Thievery created a more upbeat, spaced-out groove, MA’s tone was a neo-gothic, gritty organized chaos that set an opaque mood, better suited to slinking through rainy streets and basement bars. In no way is the shift in mood mentioned in complaint – there’s a lot to be said for contrasting musical flavours splashed together on the same bill, and Monday night’s juxtaposition worked perfectly.
The stage was lit from behind by a flashing LED screen announcing things like various socio-political stats – the cost of the Iraq war, the dwindling global availability of fresh water – famous quotations, names of random politicians or other public figures. It was oddly jarring, at times somewhat nonsensical, to see the words flashing between Iraq War death toll stats to what appeared to be random vapid text messages and/or tabloid headlines, (?) like a rapid-fire regurgitation of news sites, social networks, and gossip rags. The only glitch of the evening would be one of Del Naja’s mics which at times muted his already whispery vocals; or, maybe along with a diminishing sense of direction I’m also old and going deaf. No, clearly it must have been the mic…
© Liz Keith, Music Vice
Pictures of Massive Attack and Thievery Corporation:
Related internet links:
Gig review and photos – Massive Attack at Sound Academy, Toronto, May 2010