If Tricky had a party, it would be wild, unpredictable and feature an eager host who makes you the guest of honour but leaves you sitting on your own without a drink listening to mad uncle Vladimir. Anyone who went to Santiago’s August 22 show at Industria Cultural expecting a sing along to Tricky’s greatest hits would be seriously disappointed. What they got instead was a spellbindingly tense show that was more akin to a shamanistic ritual than a concert.(see photos).
Photo by Carla Pastén
An intro of Phil Collins’ “I Can Feel It Coming In the Air Tonight” and Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” fooled the audience into thinking that our hosts Tricky and fellow vocalist Francesca Belmont were there for our entertainment. Known for his croaky chanting rather than vocal range, Tricky left his co-singer to shoulder the musical side. Her hauntingly powerful lyrics to dark piano blues numbers such as “Puppy Love and “Pumpkin,” fit the dimly lit, smoky stage perfectly. But oddly, when she wasn’t needed to sing, Belmont was relegated to the back of the stage like a misbehaving child put in the naughty corner. The effect went from stylistic to unsettling in a gig spanning almost two hours.
“Black Steel” was one of three songs from Maxinquaye, the debut album released in 1995 that coined Tricky’s signature rasping raps against an electronic, drum based background. The rest of the gig was rock and punk orientated as the singer promoted new material including songs from his latest album Knowle West Boy (2008) in a highly charged performance.
As he clutched the microphone, choked out his lyrics through clenched teeth, stared into the distance, quivered, stamped and shook his dreadlocks, Tricky acted like a man possessed. Once out of his trance like state, his reverie continued as he swaggered and hopped around the stage bare-chested, squaring up to invisible opponents like a lightweight boxer with 100 volts running through him. Tricky has never been one for banter or pleasantries, but as he smoked, went off to explore the many fascinating dark crevices on stage and left his keyboard, bass and drum playing band members repeating the bass lines and intros to his songs, the audience wondered whether they should leave a polite note or tiptoe out.
Tricky behaved like a cocky cat that seduces and ignores admirers until a breaking point, then reaping the extra affection. After a half-hour tease, Tricky rewarded his patient audience by climbing into the crowd, absentmindedly parting the guests and allowing everyone their long awaited stroke.
He returned to the stage to get the crowd jumping along to punk number “Council Estate” and then invited around 100 people on stage with him. As he formed a mosh pit around himself to Motorhead’s “Ace Of Spades,” the singer seemed in his element bobbing up and down in his own private gig.
After this level of fever pitch, the gig took on a more sombre tone before Tricky and Belmont closed the show after an hour. It was the 40 minute encore, featuring three extended tracks such as “Vent,” that tried the stamina of anyone who wasn’t totally under the artist’s spell. Tricky’s artistic experimentation of growling like an accelerating racing car, holding the microphone to his chest and dismantling equipment (much to the efforts of his poor stage hand) divided the crowd and tested his powers of enchantment.
Post gig reactions proved that like Marmite, people either loved or hated it. The singer was praised for his extreme forms of expression and lack of boundaries , while others criticized his pretentious performance and felt alienated by new and experimental tracks, as well as the coldness of the front man and co-singer who spent most of the gig with their backs to the audience. As groups of friends argued over the terrible/amazing gig, the resounding verdict was that Tricky had successfully challenged everyone’s preconceptions of his music and his style. Unforgiving and unpredictable, Tricky’s performance has a sink or swim attitude to fans struggling to immerse themselves in his private pool.