Tricky, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Wednesday 25 February 2009
For many, Tricky will for ever be defined by the genre he helped create. He has always been darker and more threatening than his contemporaries Massive Attack and Portishead, but he can't seem to escape trip-hop, or for that matter Maxinquaye, his defining debut album.
His latest LP, Knowle West Boy, is not the first to be described as his comeback record, but it does mark a departure for Adrian Thaws. It displays both a more upbeat and musically varied Tricky than has been seen for some time, and is also a lot more accessible.
Perhaps one sign of this is the choice tonight of One EskimO as support. Their chilled-out, semi-acoustic pop may not be an easy bedfellow for Tricky's more visceral appeal, but they do have an almighty weapon in their frontman, Kristian Leontiou, who possesses a voice you could imagine appearing in Simon Cowell's wet dreams.
You couldn't have much more of a contrast to Leontiou than Tricky walking on to the stage to a heavy, instrumental version of "You Don't Wanna" from 2001's BlowBack. He hasn't mellowed, and although he starts off the night wearing a top with the name of his label, Brown Punk, emblazoned on the back in glitter, by the end of "Past Mistake", he is worked-up and topless.
Given that, on his records, singing duties are normally given over to a female vocalist, Tricky's co-singer, Francesca Belmont, is the focal point for much of the gig. Despite her vocals being far too low in the mix, her voice is undeniably impressive and versatile.
Yet Belmont lacks the stage presence of Tricky himself, and as a result it is always a relief when he takes the mic. At 41, he remains a remarkable live performer, whether it's gesticulating towards the ceiling, using two microphones at a time or banging one of them against his chest.
It's not a night for great subtlety, with the most effective songs being the heaviest, such as the Public Enemy cover, "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos". Out of the less guitar-focused songs, "Overcome" is a highlight, but Tricky gets so into the hard-rock climaxes, they go on interminably. Even the cover of Motörhead's "Ace of Spades", for all its frenetic glory, loses its shock value when it starts it up again after finishing once.
Still, this is Tricky, as unpredictable as ever, and despite his inconsistency and complexity, he is a British original, someone to celebrate and cherish.
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