I WAS THERE: Massive Attack Teach Terminal 5 About Howard Zinn, Torture Tactics & the Downfall of Civilization

Words and Photos by Andrew Parks

The Artist & Their Latest Release: Massive Attack, Heligoland (Virgin, 2010)

The Show: Terminal 5, 5.12.10

The Set In a Few Sentences: Here’s the thing about Massive Attack shows: if you’re more concerned about your $12 cocktail than whether or not they’ll play “Karmacoma” (sans Tricky, mind you), then you’ll have a hell of a time. You’ll headbang to the churning breaks of “Angel,” hump your date’s leg during “Risingson,” and high five your buddy when “Future Proof” closes with a wall of wailing guitars.

If you’re actually paying attention to what’s going on, however, the group can be a bit depressing. And not just on a visceral level, from the note-nailing leads of Deborah Miller (“Safe From Harm,” “Unfinished Sympathy”) to Horace Andy’s rather androgynous–and incredible–reading of “Angel.” Much like their buddy Damon Albarn, Robert “3D” Del Naja and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall are determined to educate as well as entertain. Which means lots of hushed, haunted vocals paired with LED readings about Hurricane Katrina, Africa’s HIV crisis, ludicrous immigration laws, celeb-centric headlines, capitalism, greed, and the hypocrisy and utter failures of the British and U.S. government. This combined with the bleak-at-best feel of Massive Attack’s new full-length (Heligoland, which dominated the two-hour set along with the duo’s masterpiece, Mezzanine) made for a draining evening to say the least.

Gorgeous and undoubtedly great throughout, but draining nonetheless, although someone snapped us out of our stupor when they said the following to a friend: “‘Unfinished Symphony?’ Isn’t that a Verve song?”

And a Letter Grade: B+