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MUSIC REVIEW

Tricky's rocked-up show is a treat

MARK METCALFE/GETTY IMAGES/file 2008Tricky (shown last year in Australia) played a fired up show at the Roxy. MARK METCALFE/GETTY IMAGES/file 2008Tricky (shown last year in Australia) played a fired up show at the Roxy. (MARK METCALFE/GETTY IMAGES/file 2008)
By Marc Hirsh
Globe Correspondent / March 14, 2009
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Tricky is a man constantly changing his mind. He started as a key figure in the development of trip-hop (both on his own and in connection with Massive Attack), but the show he brought to the Roxy on Wednesday was fired up with rock 'n' roll. His sound man didn't have a set order, only a list of songs from which Tricky could choose in whichever order he pleased. He couldn't even decide what to do about his clothing, making it less than a song into the show before deciding, no, that T-shirt's got to come off.

It seemed like a desire to have it all, and Tricky came awfully close to getting it with a terrific performance. "Past Mistake" took a simple James Bond chord motif and slowed it down to a slow, deep crawl, while "Council Estate," with its grungy "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" riff, had the energy and attitude (if not quite the velocity) of hardcore.

Underlining Tricky's musical approach was a minor-key trip-hop version of XTC's "Dear God," which picked a few chords from the song and ran with them, creating a groove rather than following the melodic invention of the original. The approach dulled a few of that song's edges (and a cover of Motorhead's "Ace of Spades") but worked wonders on the originals.

Even though Tricky was the marquee name, he shared so much stage time with vocalist Francesca Belmonte that they were, for all intents and purposes, a duo. With a low moan that seemed to come from the pit of her stomach, she took the lead on "Pumpkin," the slow and sultry "Overcome," and "Veronika," where there was nothing but the rhythm of the drums and bass to keep her company. In fact, with Tricky having vacated the stage already, Belmonte performed the final songs of both the main set and the encore as if the show had been hers all along.

More often, though, the two operated as a team. They sang "Past Mistake," "Joseph," and the Cure's "Love Cats" simultaneously, Belmonte offering a serene half-whisper that played against Tricky's low murmur. And they shared a single microphone for much of the bluesy and pained "Puppy Toy" as the four-piece band added a visceral punch, punctuating the chorus with lurching, carnal guitar grunts.

But Tricky was only sharing the spotlight, not avoiding it. Belmonte offered vocal counterpoint to "Vent," but it was Tricky's moment. Shirtless and shaking his head, he growled, "I can hardly breathe!" into the air with a microphone in each hand as the song's militaristic beat seemed to signal that enemy forces were getting ever closer. Then, as he'd done all night, Tricky held a mike aloft in deserved triumph.

TRICKY At: The Roxy, Wednesday

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