An Industrial Estate, Modena, Italy

In the cracks in the cloud between songs, however, they seem oddly buoyant for a band who have just lost a key member...

Somewhere, a bat squeaks. Clouds are heavy with portent, the air is curdled with doom. [a]Massive Attack[/a], masters of gloom, are playing their penultimate show before retreating into their studio crypt for two years, their legion diminished by Mushroom‘s departure but their multifarious demons still present and correct. It’s a special night. A significant night. Cut open the chickens and read the auguries within…

Quite literally, in fact, for somehow tonight [a]Massive Attack[/a] find themselves playing a festival of food in Modena. Not the festival of belfries or paranoia or grim urban relationships you might expect, but instead a wide range of salami, dolci and poultry. Four people wait in front of the stage while the city’s middle-aged leave their sensible cars and go foraging for crepes. Daddy G looks despondently out of the bus window. “It’s not even a festival of food,” he says, looking at the serried saloons, “it’s a festival of parking.” You don’t need the full hazel twig kit to divine the vibes are distinctly low.

However, by the time an atmospheric dusk has fallen – something you strongly suspect Massive request on every rider – the young of Modena have crept Morlock-like from their burrows to watch this band ink the sky a darker shade of black. It’s become easy to be blasi about Massive‘s – yes, yes – rumbling menace, their clotted blood thinned by the curse of Sunday supplement ubiquity, the sense that the Sword of Damocles has been replaced by some nice Le Creuset knives. Yet here, you could only describe them as ‘coffee-table’ if you own the matching skull-and-electric-chair set from the Habitat Goth collection. As the spectral dub of ‘Angel’ skulks out and Horace Andy twists and prowls like an autonomous shadow, the intimate chill of sweat-soaked sheets instantly sets in. It doesn’t lift for a long, long time.

In the cracks in the cloud between songs, however, they seem oddly buoyant for a band who have just lost a key member, Daddy G and 3D a ritualised bundle of hugs, salutes, and mutual cigarette lighting. They have a right to be pleased – this valediction shows a perfect honing of their dynamic, a stately creep through the hope and the horrors, from the resinous smoulder of ‘Karmacoma’ to the sweet silvered strangeness of ‘Spying Glass’; from an impossibly intense ‘Safe From Harm’, 3D‘s consonants ticking like a timebomb, to the delirious ‘Unfinished Sympathy’, until finally, in the stroboscopic flicker of ‘Group Four’, they stand head down and silent until the darkness lifts. And then they smile.

Two years, then, until they return. Set the alarm on the doomsday clock now. Wait for the chimes.

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