Massive Attack and Young Fathers, 02 Academy, Leeds

Posted by vibrations on 02-02-16

“We are all migrants. Migrants forever!”

On the day that David Cameron once again reveals his reptilian disregard for anyone who isn’t a hedge fund manager by referring to Syrian refugees as a “bunch of migrants”, Young Fathers’ Graham Hastings’ pointed declamation couldn’t be more timely. They launch furiously into their final song, the vituperative ‘Shame’ and it’s electrifying in the way that only the marriage of contemptuous disgust at our PM’s behaviour and infectious rhythmic beats can be.

Last year, Young Fathers stunned me with their performance at the Brudenell and this perfect pairing with Massive Attack has been something I’ve been eagerly anticipating. While a 7.30, enormous space support slot can’t capture the power of that intimate encounter, it gives a close approximation. The voices of Hastings, Kayus Bankole and Alloysious Massaquoi weave and meld together to form an irresistible attack of melody and righteous fury. Harsh spotlights frame their hypnotic movements and, by the time they have to leave, they’ve won over the sold out crowd. Less of a support act, more of a double headliner and more evidence for Young Fathers being the UK’s best band.  It’s not long before they’ll be filling halls this size on their own.

Massive Attack however, are not to be upstaged and though some members of the audience will baulk at the ‘Blue Lines’ free performance they prove themselves to be every bit as challenging and uncompromising as their tour mates. They open with two relatively obscure tracks from the past few years ‘Battle Box’ and ‘United Snakes’ and this sets the tone for the evening – dark and intense. 3D Del Naja’s vocodered voice is accompanied on the latter by a disorientating strobing of flags and logos that suggest that either our Bristolian heroes have picked up some really, really dodgy sponsorship or something very, very bad is happening in the outside world. Assume the latter.

It’s not until the third song that Daddy G’s gangly, awkward cool graces the stage and the two core members share vocal duties for a haunting ‘Risingson’. If I’ve one criticism of tonight’s show it’s that this sight, the two of them together, their soft spoken raps intertwining, is pretty rare tonight - a shame as they complement each other so stunningly. However, Massive Attack did change our notion of what a band could be a long time ago and the revolving door of singers all add their special magic. Martine Topley-Bird delivers stunning renditions of ‘Psyche’ and ‘Teardrop’ while a brace of Horace Andy numbers is glorious with ‘Angel’ being particularly devastating.

The set is largely drawn from ‘Heligoland’ with a smattering of ‘Mezzanine’ and all accompanied by striking visuals highlighting the damage being done in the world today. It may not be everyone’s idea of a good night out but it’s viscerally powerful. One moment you’re dancing away and the next you feel like crying because you’ve just been confronted with the statistic that 1 in every 122 human beings is now either a refugee, displaced or seeking asylum. This is a UN figure- I looked it up. It might not be what everyone in the audience wants to see but it’s what everyone here needs.

There is also a heavy focus on new material. Newest collaborator Azekel is ushered onstage to sing the title track for the new EP released the following day, ‘Ritual Spirit’ – a delicate, mournful number, sublimely sung. Not exactly a glimpse of light this evening but a break from the relentlessness. Young Fathers return during the encore for their collaborations ‘Voodoo In My Blood’ and ‘He Needs Me’ and, while we’re denied ‘Unfinished Sympathy,’ the one song that absolutely everyone wants, the impression I get is of a band focussed on dealing with the here and now, with moving forward and not resting on past glories. They may not take all their audience with them but I’m overjoyed they haven’t lapsed into complacency and that they retain their fighting spirit. They remain unique. And that new EP’s a belter.

Alan Stewart




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