Lily Moayeri

music journalist since 1992 | educator since 2004 | podcaster since 2020 | Iranian American since birth

Massive Attack and Martina Topley-Bird Live At the Wiltern

Massive Attack and Martina Topley-Bird live in Los Angeles at the Wiltern Theatre on May 19, 2010, reviewed for Venus Zine:

Massive Attack and Martina Topley-Bird Live

Massive Attack and Martina Topley-Bird reunite in Los Angeles
May 18, 2010, at the Wiltern
By Lily Moayeri
Published: May 24th, 2010 | 1:15pm

Massive Attack has had its followers in a permanent state of suspension since the early ‘90s. The morphing Bristol, UK–based collective only releases an album every four or five years. But their evasive live performances make it stateside even less often than that. Not surprisingly, the band’s first two nights at Los Angeles’ historic Wiltern Theatre instantly sold out and had to be extended into a third night, which was topped off by a free outdoor show at Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Supporting Massive Attack on this tour was a featured guest vocalist on their latest full-length, (Virgin), Martina Topley-Bird. The singer originally came into the public eye as the bone-chilling female lead on former Massive Attack member Tricky’s first few albums, but has since come into her own in a solid solo artist. In this full-circle opening slot, Topley-Bird showed a command of the stage that required no backing. Casually confident, Topley-Bird grasped her surroundings in a stranglehold that felt like a caress. She performed numbers from her solo debut, Anything (Palm Pictures), in almost complete darkness, but it didn’t matter whether you were familiar with her material or not: once Topley-Bird has you in her clutches, you have no desire to be let go.

The singer held double duty on this night as she slid seamlessly from the opening solo act to vocalist for headliners Massive Attack, singularly taking on female vocals from her tenure with the band as well as those historically provided by Elizabeth Fraser, Tracey Thorn, and Hope Sandoval. In addition to Topley-Bird, core members Robert “3D” Del Naja and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall (who only graced the stage for three songs), were flanked by longstanding Massive collaborator and legendary reggae persona Horace Andy.

The combination of live and tracked sounds, light and dark flares, high and low voices, and male and female energies is at the center of what makes a Massive Attack performance the perfect yin yang experience. As they blind the crowd with a signature backdrop of lights and not so subliminal messages, Massive Attack has a digital Close Encounters Of The Third Kind communication with their audience. The Los Angeles following was genuinely old school/been on board since Blue Lines/don’t get out much these days/it’s a special occasion so we are all going to have an exceptionally great time kind of crowd. Naturally, favorite songs from previous albums like “Karmacoma,” “Teardrop,” “Angel,” “Safe From Harm,” and “Unfinished Sympathy” were met with a bit more excitement than new tracks from Heglioland, which many hadn’t had time to develop any memories around yet. One exception was the Horace Andy number “Girl I Love You,” which is already an easy favorite and vociferously received. Then again, we probably have another five years to make this album a personal favorite before we start begging for more.

 

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