This month marks the 30th anniversary of Massive Attack’s era-setting album, Blue Lines, which offered the modern standard, Unfinished Sympathy, among a solid set of now classic moments.
Last week, marked the return of live contemporary music to the Sydney Opera House, with Jack River performing in the Opera House Forecourt – which has hosted the likes of Crowded House, The National and Bjork - and a small breath of good news blew through a deeply stressed music industry.
Wind Back Wednesday makes the most of this coincidence of events to return to a 2010 night in the Forecourt when Massive Attack performed in view of the House, the Harbour Bridge and a night time crowd primed for darkness inside the dark.
Sydney Opera House Forecourt
It used to be that Pink Floyd, in particular its Eminence Grouch, Roger Waters, were considered the ne plus ultra of paranoia.
By the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, their albums and concerts were the embodiment of the dark certainty that not only were things grim all around you but they were irrevocably rotten deep into the soul of mankind.
Naturally, millions of us lapped it up for there is nothing so thrilling as such dark matter packaged in music of volume and power and propulsive rhythm. We’re going to hell in a handbasket so turn up that guitar solo Dave.
Somewhere in the ‘90s that mantle (or maybe that heavy black cloak) was passed to Massive Attack, a group born out of glum Thatcherite England and nurtured by prodigious consumption of the sacred ‘erb. Sure they had moments of beauty and delicacy but their default setting was dark and claustrophobic and powerfully thrilling.
And so it was in the attractive though in no way comfortable setting of the Opera House forecourt (has the bright spark who decided this was a hip new venue ever sat on those piles-inducing steps for a couple of hours?).
Coming on like those hard-edged Germans, Can, the show began with United Snakes, an escalating circular game of motorik beats and space-rock sounds that grew into a cosmic funk head charge of the sort which would eventually during the show have main man Robert del Naja dancing and boxing. Hello!
Soon after, in a repeat of their 2003 tour here, the screens behind the dimly lit band began to flash first words of both import and randomness and then statistics which spoke of an out of balance world, of societies with disjointed priorities, of overbearing interference in daily lives. Fun!
Prettiness of a sort was not absent mind you, though the eerily angelic voiced reggae mon Horace Andy was too little seen (as was official member Grant Marshall who was there so infrequently he was effectively one of the hired hands). Martina Topley-Bird made a decent stab at the shimmering Teardrops even without the transcendence of its original vocalist, Elizabeth Fraser, and Deborah Miller was powerful and soulful in Safe From Harm and Unfinished Sympathy.
But the principal tone was the balance between pulsing, pushing rhythms and thick, enveloping sounds. Like driving into and out of fog at high speed: the risk and the rewards were enhanced by the gloom and the threat and the paranoia. Hello fun!