Music

Tricky @ The Forum, Melbourne (16/02/2011)

Tricky walks a very fragile line between total chaos and controlled calm at his Forum debut. To shape the kind of concert experience Tricky offers takes a kind of mad genius and an absolute disregard for ‘expectations’. The world’s premier trip-hop artist since releasing his debut album Maxinquaye, has, over time, been forced to shrug off the tag he once comfortably inhabited. Massive Attack – his former band – evolved so gradually it was near impossible to gauge, while Tricky as a solo artist hit the slightest bump (a bad review) and threw out most of his old tricks for fear of repeating himself into obscurity. The result of this is one hell of a disjointed concert style-wise, but scarcely a boring one.

Tricky’s latest album Mixed Race has failed to really take off in Australia, but his fanbase is well established enough now to fill a decent enough space for the man. In the not-quite capacity crowd, it’s difficult to typify a Tricky fan. There’s no ‘90s-era tour shirts, no obvious die-hard hip hop types. But then apart from a home-done Tricky t-shirt (drawn with permanent marker, I’ll add) made in my youth and long since lost, my own fandom is hardly obvious. Perhaps like myself then, many fans are here tonight to see a curio of the past whose moody, noir-ish tracks and reputation as a volatile individual share a strange connection.

It’s a thin-ice walk for almost two hours once Tricky’s anti-rock show begins with him leading his band on to the stage and taking his place not at the mic, but in front of his keyboardist; his back squarely to the audience. He jiggles around for what seems like ages, ignoring us on his platform as his live drummer, guitarist, bassist and synth man plough through an instrumental You Don’t Wanna.

Whereas warm-up act Wolfgramm poured their all into grabbing our attention with their slick DJ and vocalist set to little response, Tricky delights in taking the hard road to winning us over. But saying exactly what he does to win us over in the end is quite difficult.

His vocalist Francesca Riley performs a great deal of the songs solo, while Tricky stalks the stage adding only occasional vocals. His band, although in top form, are at the constant ready to stop playing or change song as Tricky bizarrely commands. The concert’s uneven start – which includes his early hits Black Steel and Overcome – makes its first sudden shift of this kind when during the serene Pumpkin, Tricky points at his drummer and without warning, the band launch into a cover of Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades. Tricky begins hauling fans out of the pit at this stage and doesn’t stop until the band are completely obscured by dancing punters. The shocked security staff can do little but make sure nobody falls during their frantic climb to the stage. Nor do they do anything much about Tricky’s almost constant joint-smoking tonight or even stop him passing that dutchie around his new buddies.

There’s no doubt from this moment on Tricky’s found the vibe he needs and the show turn into a soaring, chaotic rumble. He’s still in command though, and a quick exodus from the stage invaders is followed by a crazed run through of Vent before Tricky and band flee the stage also.

The encore, although just offering more of the same madness as the main show, also revealed Tricky’s warped motivation for his radical stage shows. A second wave of fans were quickly gathered by the artist – at which point I lost my own inhibitions and joined him – only this time, Tricky wanted more. Security finally begin blocking people once half the packed dance floor’s been transferred to the stage. Although I felt a bit of a fake dancing around to a song called Ghetto Stars (I’m about as ghetto as a pavlova), no one on the stage looked fully comfortable with the situation. Then among the confusion of dancing bodies, I catch the sight of Tricky slinking off stage only to re-emerge at the bar beside the dance floor. The grin on his face as he sips casually from a freshly acquired drink and watches his handy work is priceless. The band power on, making their leader proud, until finally security herd everyone back into the arena.

I could probably rail against Tricky and say he’s a lazy performer, or go on about how much happier he seemed watching fans dancing with his band than actually singing. But the truth is, he worked harder than any band I can recall to make sure everyone who came to see him had the fucking time of their lives.