Tricky, Katch @ The Zoo, Brisbane (20/02/2011)

An open letter to The Zoo. We’ve been friends for a long time now and there have been many good times but please would you sort out the airconditioning situation? Seriously, it’s jeopardising our friendship. I see you’re now selling $2 fans to help punters cope with the stifling heat. That money better be going to the aircon fund.

It is a tribute to Tricky and his band that anyone feels like dancing because tonight it is so hot that this punter is actually glad it’s far from a sell-out crowd and we have some room to move.

Brisbane urban hip-hop merchant Katch struggles to win over the listless crowd with some sexy grooves. At one point, he tries too hard to get the crowd involved. “Can you hear da bass?” A pin drops, and three people give a lacklustre “yeah”. He mutters something and drops his head back to his decks.

Later, he pays tribute to Barry White and lays down a thick bass groove that on any other night would no doubt have the room swaying. The man has some great tunes and it’s not his fault no one is grooving. Everyone is conserving their sweat for the headliner.

We don’t see Tricky’s face for the entire opening track – a dirty dub version of The Eurythmics Sweet Dreams. He is on stage, shirtless and arms raised, facing the back wall, bouncing like a prizefighter on the balls of his feet. Anticipation builds as we wait for the punch, when he faces us and forces us to rise to his challenge. From any other singer, this would seem contemptuous behaviour but this is Tricky establishing that’s how he rolls and you’re gonna lump it. His voice is menacing, with Where I’m From whispered or spat out. He holds the mic to his chest and thumps out a heartbeat.

The band takes it up a notch, with singer Francesca Belmont belting out a modern blues song with notes higher than her hair. Violin-shriek samples have the punters bouncing, and all the while Tricky is smoking – yes, smoking – on stage. This non-smoker is sad to say that bad habit has never looked so cool.

In fact, Tricky barely makes a peep all night, leaving most of the performing to his band. For just two tracks do we get his trademark sprechgesang style but he’s also singing more than he ever has. That suits his song choice for tonight, which is more stadium rock and punk than the dark hip-hop that made him, and his home town of Bristol, famous.

Tricky pulls some 20 people from the crowd on to the stage to dance and cavort during an epic 10-minute version of Motorhead’s Ace of Spades. A sexed-up Karmacoma is next, which seamlessly merges into Run DMC samples, then something approximating gangster rap. Tricky picks up the mic again to spit out some vocals reverbed to the point of muddling,over a bass riff that sounds like it might accompany footage of an LA gang stalking down the Boulevard in search of a tumble. His cover of XTC’s Dear God gets a shortened reworking, as does Grandmaster Flash’s The Message.

Then things get weird. In the three-minute break before the encore, Tricky seems to have been possessed by the spirit of Axl Rose. The first song back is slow like treacle, building to a throbbing that lasts for minutes, then inexplicably into a big rock finish with a two-guitar plus guitar-sample assault. For a moment, our little Zoo sounds like a stadium tribute to Use Your Illusion II; then as abruptly as it began, it is stripped back to the original throbbing loop to finish.

The band hasn’t even finished before Tricky is off the stage, hugging and chatting to fans, having his picture taken and visiting the bar.