Massive Attack

Massive Attack

Meltdown, Royal Festival Hall. London London (June 14)

As curators of the Southbank Centre’s annual chinstroke-fest Meltdown, Massive Attack promised an “extension of when we put together the old warehouse parties back in the day”. Er, hello? This is the Royal Festival Hall, not the St Paul’s Carnival. With Massive mainmen 3D and Daddy G perched behind a trestle table for most of the festival’s opening night set, they look like they’re running a sombre tombola stall rather than piloting a pioneering trip-hop sound system.

Still, even from a seated position Massive Attack summon a sporadically awesome sound, replete with thick molten basslines and salty tension. The wrung-out feedback howls of ‘Risingson’ and ‘Angel’ prove that they were doing thrilling things with distorted guitars long before Portishead discovered Sunn O))), although a slew of new songs – the thumping, insistent ‘Marakesh’ apart – come across one-paced and wishy-washy.

Meanwhile, they don’t do their reputation for paranoid preachiness any good by using a giant screen to flash up agitprop slogans. Being told the cost of the Iraq war to the taxpayer in the middle of a sultry ‘Safe From Harm’ feels like a rather abrupt case of coitus interruptus. In other words, unnecessary.

Fortunately, release follows rapidly in the form of an unexpected aftershow seeing-to by fellow Bristolians Fuck Buttons (even if most of Massive’s crowd flee with bleeding eardrums). With Grace Jones, Fleet Foxes, The MC5 and Flying Lotus having appeared during the week-long celebration, 2008’s Meltdown is full of surprises – just not from its curators.

Sam Richards