Massive Attack and Thievery Corporation at Gibson Amphitheatre Last Night

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Danielle Bacher/ OC Weekly
Massive Attack and Thievery Corporation
November 7, 2010
Gibson Amphitheatre

Bristol, UK trip-hop stalwarts Massive Attack joined D.C.-based dub/electronic collective Thievery Corporation for an evening of downbeat musical exploration. The gig capped off the LA Weekly-sponsored event LA 101, a celebration of live music, DJ'ing, food and local vendors. The freewheeling vibe brought out Angelenos from all walks of life.
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Danielle Bacher/ OC Weekly
The top billed acts, however, attracted the hardcore music aficionados on Sunday night. Thievery Corporation materialized on stage amid a pulsing jam of sitar and deep bass, which led into set opener "Forgotten People," from their most recent album Radio Retaliation. The track is an Indian-influenced arrangement that shows off the group's multinational aesthetic. Vocalist Sista Pat, wrapped in a flowing white robe with body-length braids, shimmied and wound around her fellow musicians while she belted out "Lebanese Blonde." Perhaps their most recognizable tune, it's a genre-straddling melange of piano, breakbeats, horns and Middle Eastern flavor.
 "Come on boys! Los Angeles, I want everybody up!" implored TC's male toaster/rappers, before the crew launched into the title track from Radio Retaliation. This is perhaps the purest expression of their deep reggae influences: a skanking, dubbed-out riddim made for island dance floors. Like Massive Attack, Thievery Corporation have an abiding love for Jamaican music, and this love informs everything they do artistically. On "Numbers Game," however, a more modern British sensibility can be felt. In fact, the song bears resemblance to "Fools Gold" by the Stone Roses, in its funky, extended wah-wah guitar workout. 

The rumors of a special guest for their set proved to be true. Jane's Addiction/Porno for Pyros frontman and Los Angeles native Perry Farrell joined the group on stage for "Revolution Solution," their collaboration from 2005's The Cosmic Game. In contrast to the more spirited efforts thus far, this track was downbeat and chillout room-ready. The muted tone continued as singer Lou Lou took the mic for "Le Femme Parallel." The lyrics are entirely in French, and  her dulcet voice was a perfect match for the beautiful language. Musically, it sounded almost like a funk-inspired Stereolab.

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Danielle Bacher/ OC Weekly
Lest the good vibes dominate the entire evening, the Corporation made a bold political statement with their song "Vampires." A fist-pumping Latin dance-infused called to arms, the group verbally calls out the machinery of modern capitalism, specifically the International Monetary Fund (or "International Monetary Motherfuckers"). Like all the best protest music, you can dance to it. After this incendiary cut, the group acknowledged one of their musical forbears with "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter," their studio collaboration with David Byrne. It has a jittery, off-kitler funk vibe reminiscent of Fear of Music-era Talking Heads. On top of that, the title of the song comes from Carson McCullers' 1940 novel. Truly, this group has a global vision.

Massive Attack, on the other hand, write paranoid fever dreams that rarely look beyond four bedroom walls. A swirl of purple lights accompanied an equally psychedelic stew of wind chimes, snare cracks and disembodied whispers. Their first selection was off their new album Heligoland. "United Snakes" is a creepy epic, nearly 10 minutes long on the record, and it didn't lose an ounce of its power from the stage.

Long time Tricky collaborator Martina Topley-Bird joined them for their second track "Babel." The instrumentalists laid down a thick bassline with skittering cymbals and hi-hats, while an LED backdrop repeated a bunch of cryptic phrases. The ageless Horace Andy fronted the band for a tense, claustrophobic take on "Future Proof." The song is akin to Radiohead's "Paranoid Android," both in sound and subject matter. For this piece, the backdrop spouted interesting and outrageous tidbits about Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, etc. They would revisit this motif throughout the concert.

Topley-Bird re-emerged for "Teardrop" (a.k.a "the House theme song"). The instrumentalists pared down the already-minimalist song to its essence, letting the delicate melody reverberate and twinkle. The familiar ballad became even more haunting, as the names of individuals killed by gun violence repeated far too often. During "Mezzanine," a more problematic list appeared behind them: scores of corporate logos like Microsoft, Monsanto and Virgin (the band's own label). However, Comcast/NBC Universal and Live Nation were nowhere to be found. Still, the song itself was a triumph.

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Danielle Bacher/ OC Weekly
"Inertia Creeps" did just that, with tribal percussion thumping and its slow, yet insistent crawl reminding all there just how phenomenal the entire Mezzanine album is. A seriously bizarre hodgepodge of the names of recently dead celebrities and Native American tribes provided an unsettling counterpoint to the song's manic nature. The group reached even further back into their catalog for the official set closer "Safe From Harm." A gorgeous amalgam of R&B, dub and house music, it has only grown in power the past 20 years. Martina Topley-Bird admirably echoed original Massive Attack diva Shara Nelson, while the live instrumentalists and DJ's fused into one organic whole.

It was a good point at which to exit, before returning for their new encore track "Atlas Air." Beginning with an organ intro that bizarrely reminds one of Type O Negative's "My Girlfriend's Girlfriend," it slowly unfurls into prototypical late-period Massive Attack: dense and disturbing, yet immaculately recorded and intoxicating. It's the final song on Heligoland, and one of its clear highlights. While a Blue Lines partisan may feel left cold by this type of material, the group's musical progression reflects an increasingly complex and fucked up world. On the bright side, though, the LED backdrop for this song simply portrayed a ceaseless flight itinerary and map of the world. In the end, it showed that there are positive aspects to the world getting smaller, a concept that this collective explores better than almost anyone.

Personal Bias: I am a Blue Lines partisan.

Crowd: As diverse as it gets.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Pass that shit!" said a tall, bearded man to a bowl-sparking neighbor.

Random Notebook Dump: I had to restrain myself from screaming, "Play 'Unfinished Sympathy!'" Sadly, they did not.

Setlist:

Massive Attack Setlist:
"United Snakes"
"Babel"
"Rising Son"
"Girl I Love You"
"Future Proof"
"Teardrop"
"Mezzanine"
"Angel"
"Inertia Creeps"
"You Were Just Leaving"
"Splitting The Atom"
"Safe From Harm"

Encore:
"Atlas Air"



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