Masquerade; Tampa • September 4th, 1998
Michael D. Fellows
Why did God have to send a semi-squall of thunder and lightning to Tampa? On the night I was to see one of my favorite, most endearing artists for the first time live, It was pouring. It took us 30 minutes to even get the nerve to get out of the car and run to the venue. When we finally did, we were soaked by the time we got there. My jeans and shirt clung tight to my flesh. I guess it was a perfect way to watch this collective group from Bristol, UK. I had a chance to visit this city in 1995. When I think of them and their home city, I picture wetness, dampness, and a cold bleak outlook. The very influence of this place gave us the deep and dark soul dance dubbed Massive Attack.
I also was looking forward to this show because Elizabeth Fraser, vocalist for the now-defunct Cocteau Twins, was rumored to be making an appearance. She lent her angelic voice to three songs on Massive Attack’s new release, Mezzanine. She is the proud mom of a second baby and was said to have hired a nanny and every other thing a new mom needs to lug her child around the US. This did not happen. Regrettably so, because vocalist Deborah Miller didn’t have a clue as how to sing the notes that Liz can sing. Liz is a pop singer, whilst Deborah is a soul singer. She could sing the Massive hits of the past but not the new wordless vocalizations of Liz. Massive Attack opened with the new album opener “Angel.” It’s sung by Horace Andy, the Melankolic label’s new darling. His new album Skylarking is out now, on that very label of course. He has contributed vocals on every Massive Attack album. His songs are usually the more pop songs on the album; this song is more of a dirge. It opens with a drone before going into his reggae tinged vocal delivery. It ends with some ‘quelle surprise’ guitars. On this new album, Massive Attack uses guitars for the first time. They are still heavily mixed-in, which gives it the feel of previous albums. You would think they would stick out more, but it flows quite well. This album is just more branched out. It’s not a rock album. It’s just even more enigmatic than before.
It was bloody essential for Horace to be there. He was the most energetic of the band that night. He got the crowd moving — Massive Attack doesn’t have the best stage presence, and it’s understandable. They still are who they have always been, underground artists who just happened to be living in the right town. They will not have the hits that former collaborator Tricky had. But they can still be known for giving the world the genre of Trip-Hop. Seeing the nervousness on their faces as they creeped on stage was proof enough. They would hardly look into the audience. That was Deborah and Horace’s job. They played for almost two hours, and played several encores before retreating back to their bus. The set list covered their previous two albums generously. Horace got to sing his favorite songs: “Hymn Of the Big Wheel,” “One Love,” and even “Spying Glass.” Deborah also got to show off her vocals on wonderfully updated versions of the classics “Safe From Harm” and “Unfinished Sympathy.” 3D, Massive Attack’s founder and main vocalist, showed off his speak-sing vocals on such songs as “Daydreaming,” “Eurochild,” and “Karmacoma.” Massive Attack were also supported by a live drummer, a keyboardist, a bass player, and a lead guitarist.
The song “Inertia Creeps” took full advantage of this new stage lineup. The band closed with some older material, namely a new version of “Heat Miser” with added vocals. The show ended with all the members lined up on the stage under a dizzy blitz of bass and strobes. The feedback stopped and the applause continued till the house lights came on. We thankfully were dry after hours of dancing. Thank you Massive Attack for coming to our little town. We truly didn’t deserve you.