Anarchy in the O2. “We need some people on here,” Tricky demands. “Are you scared?” the topless singer keeps repeating.
Well, yes, and disturbed and disorientated. The trip-hop
maestro has just dragged over 50 audience members onto the stage for a
mesmerisingly shambolic rendition of “Vent”, which goes on over 20 minutes and
features appearances from Tricky’s daughter and his two uncles, plus quite a bit
of crowd-surfing from the 44-year-old Bristolian.
“I have to admit this is one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time,” he claims as the track finally ends. Baffled audience members in the seated section evidently don’t feel the same way, as most of them have left. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
The night was billed as a run through 1995’s Maxinquaye, Tricky’s murky and lascivious masterpiece, which prominently features the somnolent vocals of Martina Topley-Bird, who he’s performing with for the first time in 15 years tonight. One reputable record shop files Maxinquaye in the dance section, but it’s about as “dance” as Radiohead’s OK Computer. The experimental record is a heady blend of soul, punk, rock, hip-hop, dub and electronica, and samples Smashing Pumpkins (“Pumpkin”), Isaac Hayes (“Hell is Around the Corner”) and Shakespears Sister (“Overcome”).
However, Tricky doesn’t seem that keen on actively participating in the Maxinquaye material. During hypnotic gems such as “Overcome”, “Ponderosa”, “Aftermath” and the outstanding “Black Steel” (a cover of Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos”) the menacing performer shuffles around distractedly and mumbles inaudible lyrics before regularly leaving the stage to his excellent band and the exceptional Bird.
Essentially, the first hour is the Bird show; Tricky even admits later on “At the beginning I wasn’t having a good time.” No kidding. The chemistry with Bird, the mother of his daughter, is awkward at best; he describes her as his “Baby Mama”. However, their rendition of “Hell Is Around the Corner” is an intense delight. In fact, for all the chaos and Tricky’s frequent absences the music is never less than compelling; even when Tricky allows his brothers to take over for a protracted rap-off.
Ultimately, it feels like a punk gig, and definitely not the “chilled out” experience many of the audience might have craved. But then this is the singer who wrote “You sure you want to be with me? I’ve nothing to give” (“Overcome”). It was always going to be Tricky. It was also rather incredible.