Pop Live: The sound of one man ranting

TRICKY ASTORIA LONDON

I TRIED. I really did. In fact, I can't remember a time when I have been so desperate to be seduced by an artist, so ready to fall back into the arms of a musician whom I once admired to distraction.

And for a while I thought I was won over. For, however much Tricky tried to lurk in the darkness and drown himself in scabrous noise, his presence was magnificent. His sinewy, reptilian frame looked like something Steven Spielberg might have dreamt up for the next instalment of Jurassic Park. He jerked his head violently from side-to-side and grasped the microphone as if he was about to beat it to death. His glare was so intense, it felt as if we'd all be turned to stone.

And his voice still has the capacity to chill you to the core. Tricky doesn't sing, he gargles, growls and barks. It is as if someone has taken a cheese-grater to his voice box.

In days of his debut album Maxinquaye, it was Martina Topley-Bird that drew you in, counter-balancing Tricky's eerie presence with her soft, angelic vocals. Sadly, new recruit Kioka Williams holds none of Martine's balmy charm and can barely make herself heard over Tricky's wild-man ranting.

The languid, hip-hop grooves of the old days have also gone. Now Tricky prefers an indecipherable, industrial-style grind that would, no doubt, be very popular in death-metal circles. Heavily discordant guitar riffs and awkward rhythms were churned out by a live band that looked as if their heart really wasn't in it. This may have been as much to do with fear as the crashing boredom of playing the same abrasive refrains.

Tricky, it seemed, was on the edge of a tantrum. A guest rapper's contribution during "Hot Like A Sauna," came to an abrupt end as Tricky yelled "This is bollocks!" and took over with his tuneless roar.

There were occasional glimpses of his former seething genius, though. "Anti Histamine", a strange variation on Blondie's "Heart of Glass," was exhilarating, not least as it had a perceivable beginning, middle and end, and "Overcome", showed that - appearances notwithstanding - Tricky is still capable of some soulful moments.

But for the most part, he was behaving like a teenager who had just discovered the delights of the devil's music, and we were the aggrieved parents blocking their ears downstairs. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Maybe it is Tricky's way of punishing us for having too much faith in his creative powers. Either that or he has got none left.

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