Sunday 25 September 2016

Massive Attack, Olympia review: 'Not playing Unfinished Sympathy or Safe from Harm comes across as unnecessarily churlish'

Published 20/01/2016 | 07:33

British group Massive Attack performs to a crowd of approximately 10,000 at Queens Square August 25, 2003 in Bristol, United Kingdom. (Photo by Carl De Souza/Getty Images)
British group Massive Attack performs to a crowd of approximately 10,000 at Queens Square August 25, 2003 in Bristol, United Kingdom. (Photo by Carl De Souza/Getty Images)

Last time Massive Attack were seen around these parts, they were headlining the inaugural Longitude bash in Marlay Park. Back then, they closed the weekend with a bang and a knockout five-star show, which remains one of the best festival performances I've ever witnessed.

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Sadly, their eagerly awaited return to the Olympia for the first time since 1998 falls short of their own impeccably high standards, and would only arguably merit a solid three-star rating at best. To be fair, this is their first live show in over a year, but a band of their calibre are certainly capable of far better performances than this.

The powerful politically charged visuals are as fantastic and engrossing as we've come to expect from this legendary group that grew out of Bristol's Wild Bunch collective in the late 80s. They deserve every credit for sticking to their singular guns after all these years, not giving a hoot about the vagaries of fads and fashions, while quietly authoring six albums of menacing, moody genius.

Angel featuring Horace Andy from their 90s masterpiece Mezzanine, which remains their finest hour by some distance, is a stirring reminder of their live potency. Long-time guest vocalist Martina Topley-Bird also proves Massive Attack are still always about what other singers can bring to the table.

It is the absence of their calling card breakthrough hit, Unfinished Sympathy, that really sticks in the craw of a paying audience. Previewing new material is well and good, which they do sparingly, but murdering the dub pop of Karmacoma in a new atrociously reworked version is very puzzling and ill-advised. The rest of the encore set is equally anti-climatic and underwhelming.

Earlier, support band Young Fathers joined them for the world premiere and live debut of a new collaboration entitled Voodoo in My Blood. It's brilliant, lending credence to Massive Attack vocalist Robert Del Naja's (3D) lofty claim that the Mercury Music Prize winning band are the greatest new band in the world right now.

3D thanks the crowd for listening to the "new songs, content and ideas". Truth is the show hasn't evolved very much at all since Longitude, and not playing Unfinished Sympathy or Safe From Harm comes across as unnecessarily churlish.

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