Those who’ve caught Massive Attack live in the last five years can attest: the band has their sound dialed in to near perfection. With an amorphous lineup of guest vocalists and two polyrhythm-volleying drummers tucked firmly in their back pocket, Robert “3D” Del Naja and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall have figured out the algorithm to bringing their complex, heady sonic landscapes to life. Better yet, they’ve crafted a show that’s downright hypnotizing to watch — a triumph that can’t be underscored enough, especially in the ambient-heavy realms in which they operate.
On Friday night, the band returned to the Santa Barbara Bowl flaunting a slightly reworked take on the lasers, lights, and socio-political commentary-meets-LED display that they showcased there back in 2010. Like that show, the combination of intricately layered beats, industrial-lite soundscapes, and equally sobering (Naja) and ethereal (Martina Topley-Bird) vocals made for a potent hour and a half of music. That said, the breezeway connecting Massive Attack circa 2010 to Massive Attack circa 2014 seemed so seamless, so obvious, that it stripped the night of any sort of shock value.
By comparison, openers TV on the Radio delivered above and beyond on the element of surprise scale. Flaunting a handful of new songs off of their soon-to-be-released fifth studio album, Seeds, the Brooklyn rockers spent their time onstage jet setting all over the musical map. There were elements of funk, soul, punk, and distortion-filled experimentation sprinkled throughout their set, and none of it registered as disjointed. Better still, the band appeared to be gamely navigating the twists and turns right alongside the fans, injecting a level of excitement that sadly didn’t parlay into Massive Attack’s turn at the mic.
3. “United Snakes”
4. “Paradise Circus”
6. “Psyche (Flash Treatment)”
7. “Future Proof”
11. “Inertia Creeps”
12. “Safe from Harm”
13. “Splitting the Atom”
14. “Pray for Rain” (with Tunde Adebimpe)
15. “Unfinished Sympathy”