Is a three-word review enough? How dare I? Well, let me explain.
An enormous, amorphous talent, Tricky is an innovative artist who enjoys creative crossovers and ambiguities, allowing himself to redefine genres, if not create new ones. He is a gifted musical individual, and I am a fan.
Famous for his early work with Massive Attack, and then for his classic early solo albums Maxinquaye and Pre-Millenium Tension, Tricky seemed to disappear for a while (from my consciousness, at least) with several less acclaimed recordings. Then he caught my attention again - I picked up Knowle West Boy a few years ago and saw that he'd been working with the exciting South Rakkas Crew. He fell in love with Taiwan a few years back, performing at the 2009 Music Terminals Festival (which I missed due to travels), and here he was again as part of the TWinkle Rock summer "festival"
(BTW, "twinkle" and "rock" are two words that do not work well together. At all. If you can't be clever, then keep it simple. Even "Taiwan Rock Festival", a boring moniker I took 0.2 seconds to come up with, sounds so much better)
His music - intense, moody, and sensual - has been the soundtrack to some really important chapters of my life. I really like his stuff. And so I really wanted to write that Tricky was super awesome, that his show blew my mind, or that it was the greatest performance I'd ever seen. Or even the 1057th greatest performance I've ever seen.
But I can't because it wasn't.
A looooong, heavy, unspectacular instrumental trudged through clouds of dry ice. It served as a bit of an overview to the sounds that would be appearing this night: the rock guitars, the warehouse of samples and effects, the array of beats and percussion.
His band was minimal: the basic drums, bass, & guitar ensemble, with a singer stuck in the same dance step when she wasn't whispering into the mic, and another person hidden behind a stack of amplifiers triggering loops and whatever else. Why is he hidden? Is he ugly? Is it to make us think the sounds happen magically? I thought it was strange, because he was onstage, but then we weren't supposed to know it? Whatever.
Eventually the star of the show emerged, giving us slow, snakey dances, lengthy presentations of his back and underwear, and a few vocal spurts.
Now, I know his signature sound is his raspy, spoken word vocals, heavily rationed. And I know Tricky likes to channel his craft through various muses. He introduced us to the enchanting Martina Topley-Bird in the early days, and at this point in time, Ms. Franky Riley. Although he's the musical mastermind, he willingly steps aside to allow them their 15 minutes. At times, though, it felt like he was just letting his singer do all of the heavy lifting. 15 minutes going on 50.
His set focused mostly on tracks from his newest album, Mixed Race, presenting numbers like Really Real, Ghetto Stars, UK Jamaican, and the Peter Gunn-riffed Murder Weapon, as well as some old hits like Black Steel, Overcome, and the hypnotic Pumpkin.
With most songs, there was a heavy rock feel going on, washed with dirty south riffs and some jazz-blues swagger. If you tour with a live band, you may as well use them, so a decision to de-emphasize the studio elements and rework the arrangements, this was fine by me.
What wasn't fine by me was how poorly it all came off, particularly the utter failure of his cover of Ace Of Spades by Motorhead. On paper it is a great idea, in the studio maybe even transcendent, but live in Taipei on August 3, 2011, it was a horrible, tedious 10 minute version of a two and a half minute song that the band didn't even know when to come in or drop out of.
But it gets worse.
Once upon a time, it was cool to invite the audience up on stage to party as the band rocked out. But now it just feels calculating, an easy way to win points and curry favor. Cui Jian did it, The Teenagers did it, everyone's doing it... yawn. The only time it was ever great was when it wasn't supposed to happen.
Back in 2001 when Biohazard played Formoz Fest, the band pleaded for the fans to come closer to the stage. The response was literally overwhelming, as the crowd didn't simply stop there, but proceeded to climb up and swarm over the band. They then had to plead for everyone to get off. It was really hilarious and totally spontaneous. But this? Maybe it was impromptu. Maybe not.
But to do it on sixth song? Huh? If you're gonna do it, do it at the end of the show, cuz to do it mid-set, where can you go from there? You're peaking way too early, like a premature ejaculation.
Onstage, it felt like ladies' night at Carnegie's - it didn't feel right. It was all a cheap and officious maneuver. I glanced around the crowd. Aside from a bouncing pocket of people front and center, the rest of the audience stood immobile, and looked as bored as I was.
Folks seemed the most excited, though, when they played (the aptly named) Hollow. It felt like it was supposed to be an epic, grand, soaring number, and it almost kinda sorta was. But the performance couldn't match the band's presumed ambition. As with most of what they played, there was a disconnect of some sort. The vocal phrasings and delivery didn't blend well with the music, and the music itself wasn't so tight. With this song, the lyrics ultimately proved prophetic, "I'm floating, I'm flying, I'm dying."
But maybe the effort woke them up, because now Tricky was finally engaged, rattling his head, emphatically gesticulating, and rocking & rolling as he closed out the set. It didn't sound any better, but at least it was more interesting to watch.
Rousing cheers for an encore became an ecstatic rapture-level release when the group returned to the stage. I didn't understand, were people cheering Tricky-the-artist-in-a-general-sense-who-was-being-very-expressive-in-showing-his-gratitude or were he and his band truly a resonating experience? If you were there and it was all working for you, that's cool. I'm not out to change your mind or ruin your memories. I'm only writing how I heard and saw it. The arts are inherently subjective, and we can agree to disagree.
But back to the encore. For the first time, Franky Riley really started singing, displaying a round, soulful voice. I didn't doubt her talents, but I felt surprised, as it was in stark contrast to all of the night's prior musical orchestrations. Ah, what's one more uneven moment?
Well, how about this then? Past Mistake, on its own a powerful song, was the ironic name for what came next: another desperate solicitation for folks to rush the stage. A few went for it, and now it became ladies night at Carnegie's, closing-time edition. I don't mean this as a comment on the fans who were clearly excited to get close to their hero. I just mean the act itself, as perpetrated by the band & their management, felt pandering and desperate. Others must have started feeling the same - people actively avoided the stage manager 's pleas, moving themselves out of his range and view.
But now that the group finally figured it was wisest to do this crap at the end of the night, they totally chose the wrong song. Past Mistake is a brooding, emotional catharsis, not a party jam. WTF.
The final song commenced with Tricky sneaking offstage and reemerging in the crowd for some group hugs. Ok, this - this - feels inspired. Tricky is well-known for his affections for Formosa, even visiting on his own time and dime when he's not touring. I love that he loves Taiwan. The victory lap was for real. I just felt the line between what he's accomplished in his career and what he had accomplished this night had blurred.
(Later, during internet searches to confirm some information for this review, I learned that all this on/offstage fan mingling is standard procedure. That doesn't mean it was insincere, it's just not as impulsive as Tricky, Inc may have wanted it to appear.)
Meanwhile, the band, forsaken, played on, their leader lost somewhere in the adoration of his fans.