It boils down to this: last night I paid around $150 to watch Tricky to stand around on stage and occasionally smoke.
I didn’t know what to expect as I and three mates rocked up to the Capitol, in earlier emails it was agreed that with a guy like Tricky it was best to expect the unexpected. I actually predicted that half way through the set he might flip over a backing singer and go to town, alas that didn’t happen…
For me as a long time Tricky fan – but also one very aware that his best days are loooong since behind him – my attendance was more of a career achievement award and the chance to tick Tricky off my gig bucket list. The number of beer guts and balding pates among the 300 odd in attendance suggested to me that many others were also fans of his earlier output rather than rowdy teens hooked on his more recent stuff. In truth Tricky hasn’t made a decent album in more than a decade, and the older he gets the more bland they become (the critical acceptance that he gets now is baffling, I firmly believe many critics are so confused by Tricky they simply give each new release a perfunctory ‘B’ rather than really listen to the interminably dull dross that fills out a Tricky album these days).
Back to the gig: A few songs in and people were wondering who is the chick and when is Tricky comin
g on? Which was no surprise, after all Tricky might be the name on the cover of his albums but very rarely is his smoked out gravelly rasp actually heard on them. That proved to be the case here, as he might’ve had input into maybe 5 songs out of the 12 odd that were played over the perfunctory 80 minute set, the highlight of which – I shit you not – was when diminutive 55kg Tricky paused a song to have a crack at someone near the front of the stage, ending his brief rant directed at ‘the guy with the curly-perm’ with “I’ll finish the show and then I’ll smash you”, before shaping up in a boxing stance from the stage. It would’ve been money well spent if they went toe to toe on stage, alas that didn’t happen either…
The rest of the gig was a bit of a blur, as I would expect life is for Tricky on a constant basis.
For much of the show the shirtless and shaven headed Tricky fluttered about while his female lead singer du jour did most of the heavy lifting (she was fine for all the newer stuff, but in the earlier tracks sung on albums by Martine Topley Bird she oddly opted for breathing the vocals rather than singing. Not the same. Did a good job on Balck Steel though. So there’s that…)
All the while Tricky wandered on and off stage seemingly oblivious and uninvolved in the goings on, for long periods actually facing away from the crowd standing motionless. When the voices in his head reminded him that he was ‘on’ he generally stuck with his go-to move that I have dubbed the Tricky-sprinkler: put one palm on the back of your head and use the other arm in a karate chopping motion from back to front. Repeat this at random intervals for 80 minutes. I mentioned at one point that Ben Cousins was probably more lucid during the 2006 Grand Final (when he was apparently hopped up on goofball).
There were a total of zero songs from both Juxtapose and Blowback, two of his better albums. Tricky played one song from Pre-Millennium Tension and exactly three songs from Maxinquaye, one of them, the transcendent Overcome, ended after about 90 seconds, segueing into one of his crappier newer songs. This means well over half of the gig consisted of either covers (Motorhead’s Ace of Spades was OK) or tracks from the albums I labelled either uninspired or lamentable above.
The highlights: Black Steel was THE highlight and saw the band bust out a crisp rendition, but in another example of how removed Tricky is from his own career he didn
’t even voice his lines in the song. In truth that consists of him saying nothing more than “many switch in, switch on, switch off” four times – 28 words! – at least give us that…
The 90 seconds of Overcome were a nice tease that ended all too soon, and the only other song of note was one that I didn’t even recognise, but it benefitted from a driving bassline and even though the lyrics were indecipherable and muffled it was the most typical hip-hop song of the night.
In another indication of how confusing things were after an ovation that consisted of one boring song dragged out to around the 10 minute mark the stage lights came up and filler music blared briefly from the speakers – the universal sign of ‘gig over’ – but while Tricky vamoosed the band didn’t move from the stage for a couple of confusing minutes. They then started up again and played another (dull) song sans Tricky, causing many at the door to do a quick U-turn only to be disappointed when after that track the gig really did wind up without Tricky re-emerging.
The problem here is that Tricky is at his artistic peak when he tip-toes the fine line between sanity and insanity. Early in his solo career he did this masterfully with the towering Maxinquaye and the polarising (but I think great) Pre-Millennium Tension, but since then he has become wildly inconsistent, veering from the uninspired and bland (Knowle West Boy, Mixed Race) to the excellent (Blowback, Juxtapose) and back to the lamentable (Angels with Dirty Faces, Vulnerable).
It’s the same with a good night out, no alcohol means it’s hard to get started, too much and you get sloppy and things generally end badly. Finding the right balance and maintaining it is hard. In the 90s Tricky got it very right for a while, then things momentarily got messy, then since Blowback Tricky seems to have sobered up, become coherent again, and the result is boring mediocre music.
Re-reading the highlights above drives home just how meh it all was. One classic song well played, half of another classic that ended abruptly and the third highlight an indecipherable song that sounded decidedly ‘un-Tricky’. The gig could have really benefited from a bit more variety, one suggestion would be an unknown guest rapper to provide some variation, say Mad Dog who provided some of the best bits in the under-rated Juxtapose. Anything to change up the pace really.
But again it was pretty inevitable that it would turn out just as it did, it’s just disappointing when you set very low expectations then find that even then they are only barely met.
And with that we all looked at each other, shrugged and made plans to get home, all by the very respectable hour of 10.30 ish. I can now happily say that I have seen Tricky live, but any follow up questions about how the gig actually was will just make me sad…
Thanks for the early albums Tricky, sorry you couldn’t show up for your gig.