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Massive Attack capped their spectacular ‘Mezzanine XXI’ tour at Radio City (review)

Massive Attack aren’t really ones for nostalgia, so with this 21st anniversary tour of their classic third album, Mezzanine, they worked hard to contextualize it into today’s world. “I made it quite clear that there was only one point in playing it live,” bandleader 3D (Robert Del Naja) told The New York Times, “and that would be to use the opportunity to do something completely new and complete the cycle.” Working again with filmmaker Adam Curtis (they collaborated on the 2013 show that came to Park Avenue Armory), the Mezzanine XXI show is a spectacular audio-visual experience that was made all the more special at Radio City Music Hall, which hosted the last two nights of the tour. At times it felt very intimate with minimal lighting, but then things would blow wide open with all of the huge projection screens offering a Cinemascope concert experience.

In addition to everything from the album (not played in order), the set was interspersed with covers of songs that were either sampled or quoted on the album. The night opened with The Velvet Underground’s “I Found a Reason” which was then followed by “Risingson” which sampled it. “Inertia Creeps” was followed by one of the song’s samples, Ultravox’s punky “Rockwrok,” they played The Cure’s “10:15 Saturday Night” before bringing out Horace Andy for “Man Next Door,” and so on. Even if you didn’t fully get that context, you felt it and in some cases was a nice palate cleanser between the album’s head-nodding tracks. Also, their version of Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was one of the evening’s highlights.

Everything sounded fantastic — the six-piece lineup of the band were great — but star of the show was former Cocteau Twins singer Liz Fraser whose unreal, angelic voice hasn’t diminished on bit and still has the ability to stand the hair on your neck on end. The audience absolutely roared anytime Fraser came out (especially “Black Milk” and “Teardrop”) but her stunner of the night for me was their cover of Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” that Massive Attack all but turned into a Cocteau Twins song while images of war atrocities and The Wizard of Oz played in the background.

As to the projections, they addressed topics like what does the truth mean in 2019, power, technology and more. There was a lot of Trump and Putin (including deepfake videos that played downright eerie juxtaposed against some of Mezzanine‘s dark, claustrophobic tracks). Heavy-handed at times, but I thought it worked much better in a similar fashion than the Massive Attack V. Adam Curtis shows, thanks mainly to more emphasis on the music than the media.

Massive Attack’s pre-show playlist was part of the show, too, featuring all Mezzanine-era pop hits (Will Smith, Cher, Aerosmith) but played quietly and muffled, like a cassette tape that had sat too long on someone’s dashboard in the middle of summer. When the final song of the night, “Group Four,” noisily finished, the stage went black, with one last message — “We are caught in an endless loop / It’s time to leave the ghosts behind and start building the future” — before Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” blared, crystal clear, from the speakers. One more time, for sure, but on Massive Attack’s terms.

Check out setlist (which has been the same for every show as you’d expect from a technical production like this) and a few videos below, and pictures from Thursday night’s show are in the gallery above. The tour is over but Massive Attack are sticking around for a big afterparty, happening tonight at Webster Hall from 11 PM – 4 AM with sets by the band, plus Forest Swords, Anthony Naples and DJ Voices (tickets).

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SETLIST: Massive Attack @ Radio City Music Hall 9/27/2019
I Found a Reason (The Velvet Underground cover)
Risingson
10:15 Saturday Night (The Cure cover)
Man Next Door (with Horace Andy)
Black Milk (with Elizabeth Fraser)
Mezzanine
Bela Lugosi’s Dead (Bauhaus cover)
Exchange
See a Man’s Face (Horace Andy cover)
Dissolved Girl
Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (Pete Seeger cover)
Inertia Creeps
Rockwrok (Ultravox cover)
Angel
Teardrop (with Elizabeth Fraser)
Levels (Avicii cover)
Group Four

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