Massive Attack vs. Martina Topley Bird

Post Author: Jenz

It’s true that Massive Attack takes its sweet time in
recording and touring, let alone making it over to the States with the material in
question. But one of the best things about that wait is the discovery and
collaboration with other musicians that the trio are able to make connections

For this round, it’s Martina Topley Bird, a songstress with pipes of soul
and grit intermingled with a sweetness that creeps into the air beneath her commanding
presence. For the two nights Bird and the boys of Massive Attack invaded the
Warfield in San Francisco, it was a blend of electronic bliss and bass, coupled
with a fantastic light show that pulsated as the vocalists stepped to the mic to spit out sultry tunes.

While it was a largely anticipated return for the
Bristol-based Massive Attack–a girl near the photo pit kept exclaiming that
she had waited 15 years for the chance to see the band–Bird is a gem and a
powerhouse in her own right. As both an opening act and contributing musician
during Massive Attack’s set, she expertly wielded her instruments and voice. Solo, she came armed with a keyboarder,
drum loop machine, and guitar, switching out the instruments periodically to
layer blips over themselves while crooning effortlessly. “Baby Blue” and “Poison”
found a great harmony paired with the final crescendo.

Bird knows how to write
great pop hooks, seemingly delving into lost and lamented love: “Just the memory of you / It feels like poison.”
Occasionally she was joined by her “ninja,” an all-black clad bloke who helped
out on percussion duties and dance moves. But Bird held her own just fine while
not accompanied, teaching and encouraging the crowd to sing along with her with
extra “cajones,” lamenting that more musicians couldn’t accompany her on tour (“I
had to put my drummer in my laptop”), and donning a spectacular red floor-length
dress complete with a gigantic amount of tulle.

“I am so tired,” she said before sound check on the second
day, having just cabbed from a private performance at CBS before hauling ass
back to the venue to practice. Standing outside wearing a large Russian-style
fur hat and skinny jeans, she made smoking look as effortless as her singing. Bird
on stage employs the air of being an old-time pro, and it’s not without reason.
She’s worked with people from Danger Mouse to Diplo, and it was her vocals on
Tricky’s Maxinquaye in 1995 that
helped spur the trip-hop movement that later included Massive Attack. The
latter band emailed her for collaboration on this year’s Heliogold and it made sense to tour together once production on the
full-length ended.

But work didn’t stop there. Blur’s Damon Albarn offered
studio space to the London native after catching her perform in the U.K to lay
down her third full length record. Bird talked about being able to relax her
feet at some point this year before possibly touring again in the fall for
support on that third album, but stopped mid-sentence to chuckle. “Nah,” she
said while stomping out her cigarette. “Not yet.”

Given the chance, it would be phenomenal to see Bird with a
full backing band behind her and the audience at her fingertips. And
as for the Bristol trio, who were indeed backed by an extravaganza of pedals,
turn tables, double drum kits, and more knobs than you could shake a stick at, the
night continued on with a striking implication of sex and desire. Tracks like “Rinsingson,” “Inertia Creeps,” “Black
Milk,” and closer “Karmacoma” all proved why Massive Attack is still craved by
American audiences after all these years. They’re notorious for being
perfectionists, and that kind of discipline pays off both in the studio and on
stage. Each warble is precise, each key in check, and the final result drips in such sensuality and vigor it’s hard not to get goosebumps. (I
just really hope no one was in attendance with a heart palpation – them bass
lines are out of control.) And while the politics talk in between songs seemed
a bit misguided at times – quotes by Goethe, JFK and Nelson Mandela were on
scrolling belts in the background – it was well-intentioned and seemed to all
weirdly fit together at the end.

Bass, more bass, and a whole lot of sex.