Music Review

Massive Attack goes massively visual

By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / May 15, 2010

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Woe be to the Massive Attack fans who didn’t bring their reading glasses to the band’s rollicking show Thursday night at the House of Blues.

Whether it was the lengthy stream of quotes about freedom that scrolled by during “Safe From Harm,’’ the crawl of tabloid headlines during “Inertia Creeps,’’ or the globe-spanning images of war and protest peppered throughout, the Brit trip-hop pioneers offered a massive visual attack to accompany their seductive slabs of sound.

Those among us prone to motion sickness might have had to close our eyes occasionally as the stage-spanning stack of video strips behind the band spun through everything from bright blue lines to blinding lights to a dizzying array of words, quotes, numbers, and images. (And those in the crowd not sharing the group’s political viewpoints — lots of Howard Zinn quotes — might have had to do the same.) But the effect worked hand in glove with a set that spanned the group’s lengthy career with a major nod to its recent “Heligoland.’’

A dynamite rotation of vocalists, backed by main Massive men Robert Del Naja and Grant Marshall and a five-piece band, topped the hour-and-forty-minute display of mesmerizing electronic grinds and stop-on-a-dime beats.

Martina Topley-Bird, who also handled opening duties, put her uniquely girlish-yet-smoky charms to work on among others the quietly relentless “Psyche’’ and put her own feathery spin on “Teardrop,’’ subbing ably for Liz Fraser. (“House’’ fans now know the tune as the theme song for the cranky M.D.)

Legendary Jamaican vocalist and longtime Massive Attack collaborator Horace Andy showed up and bestowed his twin senses of soul and shamanism to the symphonic swells of “Girl I Love You’’ and his own “You Are My Angel.’’

“Safe From Harm’’ and “Unfinished Sympathy’’ got a major soul injection from Deborah Miller.

Before a convening of the whole gang for “Splitting the Atom,’’ Marshall and Del Naja offered their own barks and burrs while spinning out sounds that combined creeping dread, head-bobbing beats, and a sense of the ethereal, where mood and movement took precedence over melody and meaning.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at

MASSIVE ATTACK With Neon Indian and Martina Topley-Bird

At: the House of Blues, Thursday