Concerts part II: Massive Attack @ Paris Zenith, 11 November 2009

A good live music concert experience is a trinity of 3 elements: sound quality, stagecraft, and not standing behind awkwardly tall people.

massive attack

When Massive Attack played the Zenith in Paris last night, they pulled ticked all 3 boxes on my scorecard (even if some people behind me could only tick off 2).

Earplugs. I forgot earplugs. Ever since working in that shitty Australian bar down south, my ears ring and sometimes it feels like I am wearing a sock on one ear.

Kandy, our friend who had calmed down a lot since getting stoned two minutes ago, had found a tissue and stuffed it into her ears.

“Can I have some of that tissue,” I asked.


“The tissue. Can I have some tissue?”

“Je ne comprends pas.”

Well of course you bloody well don’t – you have tissue in your ear and you can’t hear me properly.

During summer, I met a guy who had done an MBA and had hit on an idea he was not at all passionate about, but that he believed was going to make him rich. It was to sell deee-luxe earplugs at clubs and concerts, for $25 a pop no less, and they were going to come in a neat little box.

Good luck to him, but tissues, which come wrapped in plastic in denominations of 25, and cost about 50 cents, work just fine, with the added bonus you can discard them at leisure.

Listening to a live gigs with ear plugs is not necessarily a worse experience, but it is certainly different, and, for electronic music, often even better. The treble sounds are muted and you become much more aware of the bass. This can be good, since I find shrieking sounds unpleasant to listen to.

I snatched the tissue from Kandy’s fingers.

The genre-defying experience

Massive Attack like to say they are a genre defying group that cannot be classified. Everyone else said: “yeah, woteva, we’re going to dub your genre as Trip-Hop, regardless of how many groups are doing it.”

I say that it’s electronic, which was potentially going to pose a problem for the show…After all, when was the last time you say a decent electronic live act, not playing at a club?

The thing is that watching two skinny guys twiddling knobs isn’t necessarily that special. Hell, even the homeless man outside Monoprix was doing it last night, and that was just a one-man show.

Case in point, Justice playing the Zenith at Montpellier, 2007. Two guys, a crowded basketball stadium, and not a lot else happening. It was like watching mixed netball at high school.

Massive Attack, however, normally just two guys with a lot of friends, had no less than six on stage at any time, the number of musicians required to not just replicate their sound, but write it large for the live show.

They did a good job of it, event if, due to the tissues, the sock and the alcohol, or a combination, the notes lacked distinction. What they didn’t lack was force – each beat pulsed through like a heartbeat.

Lights go on

The lighting was effective. The showpiece was a large backboard of small leds (presumably), that flashed as bars of light, transformed into giant television screens, or screamed headlines and power words.

In fact, it was too effective. Not content making powerful music, the group had combined every song with a, not necessarily related, political message.

Hence for their opening number, the backboard started listing the price of the cost of living compared to wages, moving from the mundane to the increasingly extravagant.

Biscuits: 4 pounds

Annual wage for Ethiopian healthcare worker: 2,500 pounds*

Private jet hire in the Gulf: 375,000,000**

Getting fondled by uncle while sleeping off a Christmas food coma: Priceless!!!

In a different song, the screen displayed words such as “RAPE”, “BEATINGS”, “GREED”, “BLACK”. I think it was called “Happy Song,” or perhaps, “MIKE TYSON“.

In fact, it was tiring to look at. Tiring to either read the text or listen to the music. As a male, I cannot be expected to do both, I am told.

However, by the time, one hour later, the group performed a song that was accompanied by text representing the departure lounge of an airport, I was starting to understand the connection – I felt like I was at the business end of a long-haul flight; the moment when you’ve already watched 5 films in miniature including Transformers. Twice.

I see dead people

What was the rest of the audience doing throughout? I turned 180 degrees, and saw dead people. “I can really feel a connection with you tonight,” the singer told the audience. Was this psychic John Edward’s latest reincarnation, as an electronica musician?

How disheartening for the group, to be putting so much energy into a performance with only minimal reaction from the audience.

It was surely even less reassuring that when they finally did get an enormous repsonse, with foot stamping and all, it was for walking off stage after playing their last song.

I fished the tissue from my ear for the encore. Even if the group hadn’t played to deafening approval, they had a least been met with muted satisfaction.

* (i’m making up these figures, so don’t quote me – but those biscuits sound expensive, don’t they!)

** (I’m not sure of the currency or where the decimal point was supposed to go, but it looked long)


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2 Responses to “Concerts part II: Massive Attack @ Paris Zenith, 11 November 2009”

  1. Nordette Says:

    So if you’re not completely missing the fact that you’re watching a classic electro band, you’re stuffing tissues in your ear (say that out loud, sounds like in your REAR. HarharHAR) so you can;t hear them.
    Snaps to you Mr D!

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