I WAS THERE: Tricky @ Irving Plaza, 8.4.08

Photos/Text by Andrew Parks

Take a look at Tricky‘s prominently-displayed six pack in the photo above. Dude looks intense after all these years, right? You don’t know the half of it. While we expected the worst at New York’s Irving Plaza last night (at this point, it’s clear he’ll never top the trip-hop heights of Maxinquaye and Pre-Millenium Tension), self-titled was delighted to see a ’90s icon revived and at the height of his powers.

Strolling stage right to the tune of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” Tricky sparked his set with one of the most chilling single-song performances we’ve witnessed in a while: an extended version of “Past Mistake” from the about-to-be-released Knowle West Boy (Domino) album. While the original’s a slow-burner in the same goosebump-popping style as Tricky standards like “Makes Me Wanna Die” and “Aftermath” (neither of which made their way into Thursday’s show), “Past Mistake” became a veritable exorcism onstage, right down to Tricky’s twitchy seizures and repeated chants of “I hope Jesus comes.” Not to save us all, mind you; more like to whip us all off the earth. In fact, the original completes Tricky’s thought with a lustful whisper from his ex-girlfriend, Lubna: “I hope Jesus comes … to kill them all.”

In the hands of the wrong vocalist and backing band, “Past Mistake” would teeter on the edge of absurdity, especially when used to set a deadly serious tone for an entire show. Lucky for us, however, Tricky hand-selected a tight band for his current tour, one that’s ready and willing to stretch his songs like black bubblegum. To understand what we mean, consider the night’s closer: “Joseph,” yet another new song that switched gears from a two-and-a-half minute original to an absolute epic. We’re talking jam band epic in the best way, with repeated “you’re special” refrains and flare-up solos from each band member.

To put things in perspective, consider this: Tricky’s band setup worked so well they made two disposable Blowback tracks (“Girls,” “You Don’t Wanna”) sound sinister and sexy, with newly-added layers of guillotine guitars and wobbly synth lines. (And no Anthony Kiedis guest spots in the case of “Girls.”) All and all, it was enough to make us forget the ghost of Martina Topley-Bird and such overlooked fan favorites as “Christiansands,” “Tricky Kid” and “Ponderosa.” (One has to wonder if Tricky finds it too painful to perform the Topley-Bird tracks live, as we’ve heard he’s still not talking to his former muse.)

If you’re in any of the following cities, we strongly urge you to scoop up Tricky tickets now, as he turned a potential travesty into a completely transcendent performance tonight …

Knowle West tour dates:
9/5 Philadelphia, PA – The Trocadero
9/6 Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
9/8 Chicago, IL – House of Blues
9/9 Toronto, Ontario – Phoenix
9/11 Anaheim, CA – House of Blues
9/12 Los Angeles, CA – Henry Fonda Theatre
9/14 San Francisco, CA – The Independent

And a set list from Thursday (via Fluxblog, who didn’t dig the show):
The Love Cats
Past Mistakes
Black Steel
Puppy Toy
Council Estate
Lyrics of Fury
Dear God
You Don’t Wanna