POP / Signs of life

Massive Attack - Hacienda, Manchester
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The Independent Online
''Hold tight Hacienda!'' said the MC. ''Massive Attack are in the house!'' Phew, you thought, that's the first hurdle out the way; the band, after all, had at least turned up (or, as it transpired, most of them had, guest rapper Tricky dropping out at the last minute). An air of caution was understandable. Four years have elapsed since their debut album, the superb Blue Lines, but this was to be the group's first ever ''live'' performance in this country. The first number, when it came, was an unmistakable anti-climax. The opening raps were hard to hear, and with Mushroom on the decks and Daddy G and 3-D lost among a forest of mike-handlers, the main action came initially from the crowd-rousing MC, Willie Wee. Once under way, things slowly began to take off, and a series of guests came on for each number. There was no Tracey Thorn and, of course, no Shara Nelson, whose featured tunes were avoided, but otherwise they played everything from the two albums, and once the pattern of the show was established - part disco PA, part reggae jam - everything was fine.

Their new singer, Nicolette, performed her two songs well, but the real stars were the veteran reggae singer Horace Andy and a sweet-voiced Lover's rock crooner, Tony Bryan, who sang the wonderful ''Be Thankful'' and the Smith and Mighty version of ''Walk On By'' with exquisite soul. These real, practised singers slowly brought the original members out of their shells, Daddy G even doing a bit of very effective singing. When it came to Andy's version of ''Light My Fire'', it was clear the band had the audience deep in their pockets.

What the performance reinforced above all was, firstly, that Massive Attack have some killer songs, as full of wit, grace and beauty as any indie singer-songwriter's; and secondly, that, if anything, a club audience doesn't care if anyone is playing real instruments or not. The death of rock 'n' roll may yet be a while off, but let's hear it for the MC all the same.

- Massive Attack play the University of East Anglia, Norwich, tonight (0603 505401). For tour details see Gig Guide, page 26