Martina Topley-BirdEdit this event
If seeing Tricky appear alongside Beyonce at last year’s Glastonbury was a surprise, that’s nothing compared to the sight that ends his show tonight. For the man whose public persona as a muttering paranoiac often makes him seem as warm and cuddly as Van Morrison with a hangover is now posing for photographs and hugging the 50 or so people dancing around him onstage. In fact, if he resembles anyone it’s a black Bristolian Iggy Pop as he throws his wiry half-naked tattooed frame into the crowd moshing away in front of him as if it was The Stooges’ Raw Power rather than his own Maxinquaye they’ve come to see him perform.
A reaction just as unexpected as Tricky’s metamorphosis from reclusive spotlight-shirker into ball of ballistic energy, given that Maxinquaye is an album much more suited to stoned headnodding than enthusiastic headbanging. So much has been written about its pivotal role in shaping the crepuscular sound of trip-hop that there’s little point repeating it here. Nor does it need noting that its dark lustre remains undimmed even after 17 years of lesser imitators diluting its dreamlike sound down to dinner party soundtracks, or the often awkward and abstruse music its creator has released since.
But what this live revisiting reveals is the rock album that was buried behind all those muttered raps, foggy sonics and melancholy atmosphere. You could always see flashes of it of course; in the metal riffing of that infamous cover of Public Enemy’s ‘Black Steel (In The Hour Of Chaos)’, the Smashing Pumpkins sample that gave ‘Pumpkin’ its name or the bristling guitars of ‘Brand New You’re Retro’ – the latter performed tonight by Tricky’s younger brother Marlon and a posse of mates from Bristol, trading their own rhymes as the track itself is stretched into ten minutes of pumped-up punk hip-hop. Yet tonight even Maxinquaye’s most ‘trip-hop’ tracks like ‘Overcome’ and ‘Aftermath’ have their ghostly forms fleshed out by garage guitar, bass and drums worthy of someone like Gallon Drunk. ‘Abbaon Fat Tracks’ is particularly sleazy, the guitar licking the gutter as greedily Tricky’s sneers about wanting to "fuck you in the ass", whilst ‘Hell Is Round The Corner’ now sounds akin to a trip-hop Tindersticks as that Isaac Hayes sample is plucked out live by the bass player, with Tricky murmuring about his infernal visions over a bluesy bar-propping guitar.
However, if the music’s rock leanings are made apparent from the moment a six-string swagger starts over ‘Ponderosa’s chain-rattling rhythms, Tricky’s inner rock star takes a little longer to emerge. Indeed, for the first half of the night he’s hardly there at all, with Martina Topley-Bird providing the lion’s share of vocals. Much as she did on the album itself, and watching these two former lovers reunited on stage for the first time in 15 years you’re reminded of just how crucial her preternaturally wise but wistful tones were to Maxinquaye’s success when she was just a teenager, and to the musical chemistry neither has been able to recreate with any of their other collaborators in their subsequent solo careers, despite the best efforts of Francesca Belmonte, who make a brief appearance to play Alison Goldfrapp’s role on ‘Pumpkin’ and perform the cover of Echo Minott’s ‘Murder Weapon’ from 2010’s Mixed Race LP. In fact, although it’s Tricky’s name in lights outside, for much of tonight Martina’s the star of the show, her presence as regal and beguiling as her voice on ‘Overcome’ whilst Tricky crouches over the mic next to her. The wounded vulnerability she displays on ‘Makes Me Wanna Die’ – taken from Maxinquaye’s 1996 follow-up Pre-Millennium Tension – is utterly entrancing right up to the moment the final fragile guitar note evaporates.
Indeed, despite the odd bit of between song banter it seems Tricky himself might remain in the shadows, especially since he’s pretty much exhausted Maxinquaye by this point. And as the suffocating guitar riff of ‘Vent’ – another Pre-Millennium Tension track and one of the most punishing in a back catalogue not exactly short of torture implements – whilst Tricky starts enquiring "Are you scared?", you presume we’re going to end with a headlong plunge into the darkness. Yet what actually next ensues looks more like a riotous wedding reception than a black mass, Tricky cracking something even more unexpected than the sight of this once sinister soothsayer posing for photographs and instigating pissed-up sing-alongs with the people he’s pulled from the crowd – a huge grin. Something that remains on his face during the full 20 minutes ‘Vent’s riff whirls around the Indig02, and something that also appears on the chops of pretty much everyone who’s seen him find new depths in his landmark album, and his own newfound calling as a bona fide rock god entertainer in the process.
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