Massive Attack set to rock trip-hop fans in Berkeley (Inside Bay Area, 21st September 2006)
It isn't often that an entire musical genre can be attributed to a single artist or act. While it certainly drew upon musical precedents, Great Britain's Massive Attack is widely credited as having pioneered trip-hop, combining elements of dub, electronic and hip-hop into a noirish sonic blend.
In the wake of Massive Attack, subsequent trip-hop disciples have included Portishead, Sneaker Pimps, Mono, Beth Orton and even singer-songwriter Dido. Massive Attack performs Friday at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley in support of its latest release, "Collected," which was released in April and contains key singles from 1990 up to the present.
"They actually say in England that we invented trip-hop," says Grant "Daddy G" Marshall, who founded Massive Attack in 1987 with Robert "3D" Del Naja and now-former member Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles. "At first, I think we sort of resisted that.
"We didn't like our music to be called anything, because it kind of boxes you off."
By utilizing a rotating cast of guest vocalists and averaging a new studio album only every three years, Marshall and his bandmates were able to expand their sound, reasoning that each new recording had the potential of espousing an entirely new concept. That spirit can also be seen in Massive Attack's live shows.
"For our original gigs, we were a sound system, which is basically two guys behind turntables with rappers," Marshall says by cell phone en route to a gig in Paris.
"We've always treated this as an ever-expanding project. And part of that project is the Massive Attack band, which has now been functioning for over 10 years."
While the band used to be overshadowed by its keyboards and electronic equipment, it now has the look — and the sound — of a more traditional rock group.
"Reinterpreting the tracks from the album with a band adds a bit more energy to the music," Marshall says. "With the light shows that we have and the L.E.D. screens we use, it's sort of a visual media explosion, which has been kind of quite insane. We're ready to rock America."
Massive Attack's current tour is occurring while the band is taking a break from recording its much-anticipated fifth album, "Weather Underground." New tracks from that won't be part of this tour's repertoire, but the experience of getting out on the road is likely to infuse the new songs with renewed spirit, Marshall says.
"We worked on a lot of those new tracks before we'd gone out. Now I think we'll be coming back slightly more vitalized," he says. "We've got a bit more energy, so I think quite a lot of tracks that we started, we'll probably have a look at those again."
In the meantime, listeners can enjoy "Collected" in two different forms. Casual fans can pick up the single-disc version, offering up the new song "Live with Me" with folk-jazz icon Terry Callier on guest vocals. Hardercore followers are probably already enjoying the CD and DualDisc twinpack version of the release, featuring a second disc of rarities and a flipside DVD with 16 of Massive Attack's music videos.
"Most bands put out their best hits, that's it," Marshall says. "We thought that was slightly appalling. So if you're fortunate enough to get a hold of the two-CD pack, you'll see we littered the second CD with a lot of tracks that were hard to find.
"It's got tracks that didn't make it to the various album, other versions of songs and a couple of (contributions to) soundtracks. It's just full of little bits that people may or may not have gotten a hold of."
Over the years, Massive Attack has collaborated with the likes of Madonna (on Marvin Gaye's "I Want You," as found on the second "Collected" CD), Everything But the Girl's Tracey Thorn and Gorillaz, in a partnering of Del Naja and Damon "2D" Alburn. This tour's roster reflects that, with reggae legend Horace Andy and ex-Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser on board.
"We had (past collaborator) Sinead O'Connor out with us on our last tour. We've always been fortunate to have the singers who match up their schedules with ours," he says. "You work with people who actually respect what you're doing, and you respect what they're doing.
"All the way through, you know that you're doing something positive, and they take the job as their own, when they work with us. And that is a beautiful thing."
by Yoshi Kato