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1st October 2006 Orpheum Theatre, Boston, USA

False Flags/Rising Son/Black Milk/Man Next Door/Karmacoma/Butterfly Caught/Hymn of the Big Wheel/Mezzanine/Teardrop/Angel/Future Proof/Safe From Harm/Inertia Creeps/Unfinished Sympathy/Group Four



photographs by Benny Blanco

Massive Attack brings along some powerful reinforcements
If nothing else, UK production duo Massive Attack has provided a useful vehicle for dynamic vocal talent since its 1988 debut.
Going on the road would be pointless if they were unable to bring some serviceable singers out with them to recreate those songs. For a half-full Orpheum last night they attempted one step better than that, but results were mixed.
The touring Massive Attack is centered on Robert “3D” del Naja, joined by five previous collaborators.
The show’s unlikely opener was “False Flags.” At first, del Naja’s whispery rap seemed an elegant addition to the lightly jazz-peppered hypnotics. But midway through “Rising Sun” it had already grown tiresome. He busted out some animated shadowboxing moves to break up the monotony. Then he introduced former Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser.
Clad in a billowy white ensemble, Fraser added her trademark gossamer textures to “Black Milk.” Next up was Horace Andy, who lent his aging throaty vibrato to the neo-reggae feel of “Man Next Door.” Thus a pattern of rotation was established.
Horace Andy and Deborah Miller sang “Hymn of the Big Wheel” as an enchanting duet, crooning their way through the subtly funky track with grace. Fraser came back out for “Teardrop,” incidentally the theme music for Fox’s “House.” Since the Cocteau Twins have been permanently out of service for a decade now (a rumored Coachella reunion didn’t pan out), it’s a rare treat to see her perform in any setting. Del Naja introduced her as having the voice of an angel, and she does - but angels don’t belt. That said, hearing her sing would’ve been infinitely more satisfying if her vocals had been pushed higher into the mix; instead we strained to hear her.
The band really pumped some power into “Angel,” busting out between verses with a full fuzz-and-clang assault, both drummers coming down heavy on the backbeat. They delivered again on “Futureproof.”
But when Miller finished the set with “Safe from Harm,” we glimpsed the glory that could’ve been. The contrast between her big-gal gospel chops and del Naja’s starchy speak-singing worked remarkably well.
Not for lack of trying, but the best bits Massive Attack has to offer - majestic vocal melodies set against the ethereal trip-hop sophistication of their arrangements - just didn’t come across very well in concert.
Local DJ Tim Collins opened the show with a set of slick down-tempo tunes that temporarily transformed the Orpheum into a cool retro-chic lounge - a welcome change of pace.

by Christopher John Treacy

Massive Attack is powerful, purposeful
It seemed strange at first to see a band as groove-heavy as Massive Attack playing a theater like the Orpheum instead of a club. For all of its heaviness, however, the pioneering trip-hop act isn't the easiest to dance to, and Sunday's performance showcased a deep, rich concoction whose effect was more hypnotic than kinetic.
The stage setup helped, with the band ensconced in fog and backlit behind a huge wall of moving lights . But Massive Attack's music sufficed on its own, with drummers Damon Reece and Andrew Small pounding away in unison and Winston Blissett's bass low and loud enough to be felt almost more than heard.
The bulk of the set was given over to eight songs from 1998's ``Mezzanine," and they had a palpable density, from the soundtrack-to-an-imaginary-spy-film ``Black Milk" to the nearly space-rock ``Angel," which switched from portentous ticking to loud guitar.
With core member Grant Marshall sitting out the tour, leader Robert Del Naja proved a generous frontman willing to share the spotlight with three other singers. His vocals on the opening ``False Flags" and ``Inertia Creeps" were calm and sinister, leaving soulfulness to Horace Andy and Deborah Miller and ethereality to former Cocteau Twin Liz Fraser.
Fraser struggled to gain a purchase on the delicate ``Teardrop" but recovered nicely by the closing of ``Group Four." The others had no such problems, with Miller proving invaluable. Her breathy vocals on ``Unfinished Sympathy" complemented the song's foundation of nothing more than keyboards and percussion, and her duet with Andy on ``Hymn of the Big Wheel" suggested Pink Floyd handing their cosmic probing entirely over to their gospel-influenced backing singers.
Best of all was ``Safe From Harm," which juxtaposed the song's heavy rumble and the lightboards' listing of statistics from the Iraq war. It wasn't clear whether the music added weight to the stats or vice versa. But as the song rose in one giant wash of sound, all that mattered was the bliss of sensory overload.

By Marc Hirsh