Pop Live: Tricky Junction, Cambridge

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The Independent Culture
For every action there is an equal and opposite over-reaction. Given the virtual unanimity of critical accord that greeted Tricky's sulphurously intense 1994 debut Maxinquaye, its even more sulphurously intense successor Pre-Millenium Tension was guaranteed a mixed reception. To those who sought to bury his darkly enthralling second album in an avalanche of ill-founded condescension, the message of Tricky's current live show (by some distance his most convincing and committed onstage arrangement to date) is "Would you like cream with your humble pie, sir?"

The taut, urgent "Ponderosa" which opens is a far cry from the ennervated meandering which characterised too many of Tricky's later pre-PMT live performances. His new band are excellent, ploughing through the hypnotically off-kilter "Christiansands" and the paranoid, clanking "Tricky Kid" with vibrant organic vim. But the real revelation is the knowledge Tricky seems to have acquired from the last 18 months' remorseless collaborative gadding about, which is that the work he does with singer and mother-of-his-daughter Martina has a different quality to the work he does with everyone else.

As with all pop's most enduring master and muse relationships - Phil and Ronnie Spector, Ike & Tina Turner, Peters and Lee - the matter of who is wearing the trousers at any given moment in Tricky and Martina's psycho-sexual song cycle is never quite as cut-and-dried as it might seem. As a metaphor for emotional claustrophobia, being unable to breathe is pretty much on its death-bed, but the awesome "Vent" gives it an electric jolt back to life. "Can't hardly breathe... she hides my Ventolin" - Tricky's asthmatic croak fades into Martina's crooning triumph - "I'm the one who hides his medicine!"

The concert version of this extraordinary song stretches out into a thrilling industrial blues cacophony; something like how Metallica would sound if they were as good as they ought to be. At which point, roughly three quarters of an hour in, Tricky decides to call it a night - confounding disturbing rumours from other tour dates of two-hour sets and "jamming", and leaving a previously enraptured crowd in a healthy state of mild dissatisfaction. At such moments, solace can be drawn from Bruce Springsteen's Iron Law of Live Performance: if you can't do it in 45 minutes, it's not worth doing at all.