Massive Attack @ SSE Hydro, Glasgow, 28 Jan

Trip-hop legends Massive Attack celebrate 21 years of their classic album Mezzanine with a full-blown AV show and guest vocals from Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser

Live Review by Paul Sinclair | 05 Feb 2019
  • Massive Attack

The sounds of slowed-down mono hits from the 90s greet spectators as the SSE Hydro slowly fills for this evening's show, or rather, spectacle. UK trip-hop legends Massive Attack return to Glasgow for their biggest show here to date, exploring the journey they've embarked upon in the 21 years since their biggest album Mezzanine was released. 

The arena is plunged into darkness as the audience cheers. A quiet buzz builds as we wait, and wait... and wait. Seven minutes, in fact, pass in complete darkness as thousands stand awkwardly waiting for the band to appear. "Aboot fuckin' time", someone yells as the group finally take to the stage, and from here it is indeed a journey into the world of Massive Attack. 

There are encompassing visuals from the opening track (a cover of The Velvet Underground's I Found a Reason) as giant screens that surround the stage flash images of a varying nature. From a Japanese doll factory, we're suddenly transported to a royal wedding, in which we see Princess Diana notably shunned by the Queen, as she stands alone outside gazing in at a royal room, refusing to accept her as one of their own. This is captivating, thought-provoking material over the dreamy pop sounds Massive Attack are delivering.

What becomes evident relatively quickly is the harkening to the 90s. This is definitely a throwback to a time when this type of music was in the mainstream, and for many here this evening it appears to be a welcome return to their glory days of rebellious youth. It’s also strange to look around a sea of thousands and literally not see one mobile phone in the air.

The use of heavy visuals tonight are a result of Robert Del Naja's collaboration with British documentary maker Adam Curtis. These visuals make for a compelling, if not entirely original concept and show. Deep down, there is a sense that maybe you've seen this kind of thing before, impressive though it may be.

The band themselves take a bit of a back seat during the show, as dimly lit musicians litter the stage with the occasional movement from main members Robert Del Naja and Grant Marshall. Even then, there is absolutely no interaction with the crowd, which isn't the worst thing in the world – you don't really expect a 'How y'all doing tonight?' at this kind of gig.

In between the striking visuals, which range from bright happy scenes to war torn devastation, are messages flashing around the massive screens, including 'Conspiracies are a conspiracy' , 'All around you are two dimensional images' and 'Politicians are here to control everything, even you'.   

The setlist ebbs and flows, featuring covers of The Cure (10:15 Saturday Night) and Pete Seeger (Where Have All the Flowers Gone) as well as breaking out their own gems such as Dissolved Girl, performing the latter for the first time since 1997.

Vocalists Horace Andy and Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser join the group intermittently, before ending the main set with a cover of Ultravox’s Rockwrok. It’s almost unnoticeable that the band have left the stage, leaving as soon as the song is finished. An almost eerie silence takes over the Hydro, so quiet you can hear a plastic cup drop, as fans stand looking around, wondering what’s happening.

There's a loud cheer as they begin their encore with Angel, and movement in the crowd as people begin swaying and dancing to the classic beats. The swaying continues as the iconic drum beat for Teardrop echoes throughout the hall, as the band perform a slightly altered version of undeniably their biggest hit.

The vibe softens a little as they finish the evening with Group Four, another Mezzanine track that hasn't been played live for over a decade. The song is over, the band shuffle offstage without so much as a wave as the lights go out. There's cheering and clapping, presumably as people wait for Unfinished Sympathy to round off the evening, followed by the loudest groan probably ever heard in the Hydro as the house lights go up and the show is officially over.

This evening is, no doubt, a spectacle. The lighting and visuals were an impressive display that almost forgives the lack of interaction from the talented musicians onstage. Yes, this was an art piece, so much so that the performers were second to the visuals, but there's something dissatisfying about watching someone sing into a microphone, eyes to the ground with their hands in their pocket (a notable exception being Horace Andy, who danced in the shadows of the darkened stage). But, as mentioned, this night was not about how many plectrums Massive Attack could fling into the audience, it was about taking Glasgow on a visual journey through Mezzanine and beyond. Mission, sort of, accomplished.