Call me Russ L

Massive Attademy

Posted in Music by Russ L on 22 October, 2009

Ah, nuts. I was going to get right on top of this and post about it straight away. I suppose a month late isn’t tooooo bad by my present standards.

So, anyway…

The 02 née Carling Birmingham Academy has relocated itself (as most of the people likely to be reading this will already know) to the building that was formerly called “The Dome” and prior to that “The Big Night Out”. This is a measure that couldn’t possibly hurt – the old one was arguably the least likeable enclosed space in the Midlands, including prisons and such (although few will have noticed that I’ve been known to point that out before. Cough). Massive Attack were playing at the new effort on Wednesday the 23rd of September, and so that became my chance to experience the freshness. It’s very much a shame that this meant missing Theo playing in Kings Heath on the same night, but there we go. I didn’t come to earth to save you all without expecting some degree of necessary martyrdom.

Well then… it’s probably a bit better, although – as Ze Baron accurately pointed out – “a second hand septic tank would be a great improvement on the previous place”. I didn’t go up onto the balcony, so all of my observations are based on the ground floor of the main room, but if we take that as a given:
~ It looks marginally nicer, but it’s still ugly. It’s a big empty room with no endearing features.
~ There is a little bit more in the way of places to sit. Not a lot more, but definitely some (and I’m given to understand there’s loads of seats in the upstairs balcony bit that I didn’t visit).
~ It hadn’t even been open for a fortnight by this point and the floor (both the carpeted and dancefloor parts) was already even stickier than the (bad enough) one at the last place.
~ The bar staff seemed happier but the security blokes were still all a-screwface.
~ It’s wider than it is long, and this made it difficult to find a path across from one side of the room to another – the crowd in front of the stage stretched back far enough to meet the crowd of folks trying to get to the back wall bars.
~ With a change of premises and a previously unacknowledged change of owners, I decided to experiment to see if The Official Longstanding (And Very Important, Me Not Buying Drinks Will Bring Them To Their Knees, You Just Wait And See) Academy Drinks Boycott could be lifted. Well… it’s now £3.60 for Carlsberg, which is obviously ridiculously dear but (sadly) doesn’t seem excessive for a place like this. This should be taken as a condemnation of places-like-this in general rather than any kind of mitigation. It didn’t taste as clearly/obviously watered down as pints I’ve had from The Academy in the past have been, but new place is new and could still be making a special effort to impress. Maybe the official boycott is over (not sure yet) but I’m definitely not going to be buying a lot of drinks there.

I suppose I should probably say something about the bands while I’m here. Support came from Martina Topley-Bird (that’s the first time I’ve ever been able to avoid referring to her as “that Martina Topley bird” and will quite probably also be the last), who was suffering from not-so-great sound although I’ve heard plenty worse in my time. Some of her backing was really nice – mostly dreamy floaty sounds, sometimes more rhythmic and energetic. Her own singing, though, didn’t come across as well – she seemed to mostly be going for ‘sultry’ but ending up with ‘disinterested’. There were definitely some nice ideas in some of the beats, though, and she definitely built up some goodwill from me even if it rarely all came together and worked as well as it might have done.

If you’d asked me to make a list of the best bands of the last couple of decades then I might well have forgotten to include Massive Attack, which would have been very foolish of me. That would have been a stupid omission, and this gig only confirmed that. Think about it for a minute: “Unfinished Sympathy”, “Safe From Harm” and “Angel” will do on their own, all of which we got to hear at this. You can then add “Protection” (which they didn’t do) and “Teardrop” (which That Martina Topley-Bird sang at this gig. I’m not saying she did a terrible job, but I know Liz Fraser and she’s no Liz Fraser) and I’m sure that’s enough for any band.

They sounded as you’d expect, anyway. That’s no bad thing.

I mentioned “Angel” back then, and yes: it was voiced by Horace Andy, as were a few other songs. I recall seeing him at The Custard Factory a few years ago and feeling really glad about it – not only was it great, but it also seemed like a chance to see a legendary artist that I probably wouldn’t get very many chances in my life to see. Here, naturally, he ambled onstage barely announced and even less heralded. The cognitive dissonance was soon drowned out by awesome basslines, but it was still strange.

Their backing (LED or LED-look) images were interesting – revolutionary/independence lovin’ quotes, prices of essentials compared to things found on MP expences claims, and (most disquietingly) commercial airline flights justaposed with flightpaths used to move extraordinary rendition prisoners.

Fantastic stuff as far as the gig went, anyway. In terms of the new Academy… well, not quite as bad, but we’ll see if it deteriorates. Or maybe it’ll even improve. Doesn’t seem likely, but you never know.

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