I’ve always had a penchant for eavesdropping and got to feel better about it reading that many novelists do too- the similarities between me and them pretty much end here. But the truth is, listening in to a story that’s undisturbed by your own intervention is a perfect way to learn, about the people who tell it, and the world in general as well. For example, on Thursday evening, hovering in front of the stage on A38 I got to know from the two youngish chaps conversing to my left that Tricky is a kind of musical Schrödinger’s cat: he is both Massive Attack and isn’t. Them being in their early twenties (as I could only assume, though my skill at telling people’s ages has always been pretty questionable), it took them some time to navigate through the Massive Attack back catalogue to figure how Tricky was involved, until when, what he did afterwards and whether there was a spat involved in the departure.
It would have been grand to sport a sly smile based on firm knowledge of the intricacies of Bristol’s trip hop scene, but the truth is, I was in a not much dissimilar boat: I got to know Tricky through his work with Massive Attack and he only took a distinct shape in my consciousness when he played in The Fifth Element. That was one of those moments I call epiphanies of the stupid, and they happen fairly often to me: oh I know this guy, he’s from Mass…wait no. Somewhat to my excuse, in spite of MTV’s insistence to soundtrack a better part of my early teens with Unfinished Sympathy, which seemed to be played every hour or so, my favourite Massive Attack song has always been Karmacoma, and Tricky’s presence is absolutely fundamental to it. I did thus venture into listening to his solo work, which in a world before Wikipedia and YouTube was not such a straightforward endeavour as it might seem today, and concluded it was pretty good, but then the times changed, I got on the guitar music bandwagon of the early noughties and old favourites would come onto the radar only occasionally.
I now have Wiki as a trusted friend and can therefore safely conclude that Tricky released music at a pretty steady level, but somewhat off the radar of the mainstream, which can of course be a compliment. His latest project, which brought him to A38, goes by the name of Skilled Mechanics and caused somewhat of an inception-like situation to many (including my two front row neighbours): I came to this concert to see Skilled Mechanics because of Tricky because of Massive Attack. One girl even took it further and declared that the whole thing came to pass only because she liked the opening credits of House M.D.- which thus reveals that she either downloaded it, or watched it in the US, because the European versions had a generic instrumental track instead due to some fine copyright mess.
Useless diversions now put aside, here’s the time to conclude, without beating too much about the bush, that this was as fine a club concert as they get. The set up was simple: guy with guitar, guy with drums and Mac plus Tricky. The stage was dark throughout the performance so you could barely discern Tricky moving around the stage in constant and frenzied jerks, tugging at his top, which as our industrious co-photographer concluded, must be made of titanium. Entering glossy magazine territory here: he does look tantalizingly in shape for someone pushing 50. Also, Lord Almighty, the heroes of our teens are pushing 50, we are all ancient as Grecian urns pulled from long forgotten archaeological sites. The darkness was however totally befitting the music- these are the kind of songs that you might not even really know, hardly have a chorus and don’t function like classical pop artifacts: they have a primal appeal which goes to the heart and guts, everything happens in the now of the sound, which becomes even more poignant when people are invited onto the stage for the second encore and Tricky belts out the final song amidst them.
Before we sign off let us spare a thought for the opening act, Dope Calypso. I stared and listened to them in amazement, an odd musical concoction of Buzzcocks meets Weezer, eerily happening in the late autumn of 2016. As a variety act, they might do, but when you discover that they recently won a contest where they were kind of branded the future of Hungarian rock, you shed a silent tear for Hungarian rock and the anachronistic wormhole it lives in.