Friday, September 13, 2019

Massive Attack Mezzanine:XXI

Last year we had a conversation in the cold winter. It was chilly and one or the other of our beds was warm. Planning music, planning concerts, planning fun.

"What should we listen to now?"

"Massive Attack?"

"Yes, good choice. Massive Attack."

"You know if they ever come to Chicago, I'm getting tickets and you will be my date. I don't care if we are still seeing each other than. I don't care if you've moved to Vegas. I will find you. I will put you over my shoulder. I will take you to a Massive Attack concert."

"I guess I'm going to a Massive Attack concert then."

We laughed and went back to being warm.

A week later Massive Attack announced it was touring. Getting tickets proved to be a challenge, but the challenge did result in Thom Yorke Tuesday, so it was fine. The tickets, destined for a concert in March, end up being for a concert in September. It didn't matter. The night rolled around and we rolled out. Me in all my goth princess finery with a see-through head to tow lace dress with a split that made it far less decent than advertised.

The show was at the Chicago theater, the line was around the block and down two. We were far too safe to care and far too happy to finally be at the show. In one of the most beautiful cities, in one of the most beautiful theaters, we found our seats and we waited, center stage, but in the balcony. Perfect to see everything that was happening and take in every note, every light, with joy.

Massive Attack did not come for joy.

There was an oddness as we waited listening to a washed out music track that had a couple of songs that we recognized the second run through because the washed out tiny refrain of "Hit Me Baby One More Time" was easy to spot on round two. And round three. They had announced the show was starting at some point during the first round of this weird washed out cycle, so it seemed odd to be taking so very long for the band to enter onto the stage.

I could read the nervous anticipation bordering on anger from the crowd.

"It's not hard to lose a Chicago audience and it's not good when you do," I said. This was foreshadowing, I didn't realize it at the time. We had noted the subtlety of the unease.

"Bad house management."

"Could be. But if they don't come out soon they might have a classic Chicago riot on their hands." I watched over the crowd while speaking. A variety of various goths, and teens, and older stoners, and classic rockers, and punks, and freaks, and fucking DJ Scary Lady Sarah walked right by me and she smells like every inch the dark goth goddess Queen of Chicago that she is.

"That's her," I sequel in delight. "Gods she even smells like the Queen of Gothness. Can't you smell it?"

A charming laugh. "And what does a Gothness smell like?"

"Like Patchouli, and clove cigarettes and the insufferable longing of a hundred ages, obviously."


Suddenly, I hear it click over, the crowd music starts the fourth time. There is no Britney Spears this time, but I recognize the tinny lines of Ray of Light from Madonna and suddenly the theater is plunged into darkness.

There is not notice.

There is not an announcement.

The lights just go off. The crowd takes a breath.

There is no opener.

There is only Massive Attack. Or rather, the Velvet Underground "I found a Reason." We fall into the music. We fall into the words. It starts with a missive about the data, and it goes from there. It is, as if watching a dystopian science fiction story written by Massive Attack unfold, to a soundtrack of Massive Attack. Behind them music, the seven piece band, behind all of this rolling hills and technicolor lightness. The light board for this show encompasses the entire theater. The technicolor is documentary images interwoven between powerful flashing, throbbing stage lights.

"I'm glad we brought the sunglasses." A nod. The sunglasses do not come off.

Between the lights, and the story, and the music of Mezzanine which is like a soundtrack of my life given how long I have listened to this very album, it was easy to get complacent as the audience. To think nothing of it.

Until the ticking and drum beat indicate something I didn't expect. I sit up straight. I look to my left.

I recognize Bela Lugosi is Dead within three notes, this is a song I have known for so long that it is like a part of my fabric. It reminds me of spinning in darkness randomly on a rare night at the Neo, out with the other dervish vampires. It reminds me of smokey hotel rooms in the American Northwest. It reminds me of a thousand weird, wild, things. But darkness. How can one miss the darkness?

And it is from this darkness, from the green glowing stage that is now a vampire's delight of deep dark shadows that can't be cut through and the wispy darkness of "I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead" the show takes it's turn. Massive Attack asked a lot of their fans. Their music, our music, has been the soundtrack of so many thrills, beauties, chills, astoundments. It has also been co-opted as impressive music to narrate death, destruction, and hardship. As the group slides from the shaded darkness to the technicolor reality and suddenly, as they put it, "outside the pleasure dome, the wars continue."

For three songs starting here, I kept my eyes tightly closed. I could hear, from the sounds of the audience, that I had made the right choice. I knew were it was going as soon as they hinted it. They warned us, not everyone paid attention. While they asked a lot of us, though, they still gave the music performance we wanted. From here I vacillated between eyes open and closed, lost in the story they were telling. Not the science fiction dystopian reality that I was thinking, no, this was the real life dystopian horror and this music is as much as part of that, a part of this, as I am, we are, we all are.

It was utterly devastating, and utterly perfect.

"Let the past be the past."

The lights came up as suddenly as they went down.

I sat silently stunned, holding hands, watching the theater drain.

"That was phenomenal."


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