By: Jim Welte
Tricky :: 09.14.08 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA
Tricky's first show in the Bay Area in six years was an exercise in how little an artist could be involved in his own show - and still have that show not turn out half-bad. For at least half of the singer-rapper-producer's nearly 90-minute set at The Independent, he stood with his back to the crowd, barely acknowledging his own concert.
But, a tight five-piece band, a backup singer who did all the heavy lifting and an excellent batch of new songs from Knowle West Boy, Tricky's first album in five years, more than salvaged what could have been a disaster. While Tricky is best known as one of the pioneers of '90s trip-hop, along with fellow Bristol bands Massive Attack and Portishead, he's taken the kitchen-sink approach in recent years, and his new album is a heady mix of blues, rock, ska, punk, dancehall and hip-hop, with the brooding sound of Bristol thrown in for good measure.
The night began with a set by a singer whose presence on the tour was either a practical joke by the booking agent or evidence of blackmail. Sonny, an androgynous rocker who seemed equally influenced by Kip Winger and Fred Durst, yet somehow managed to have considerably less talent than both, was backed by a five-piece band that alternated between their instruments and Taiko-style drumming. The songs ranged from would-be anthems to painful power ballads, with long percussive jams and some electronic blips and effects tossed in as well. At the end of the set, Sonny mentioned that he did not have a record deal. He should count his blessings.
Tricky's band took the stage to Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," and when the dreadlocked singer appeared, they launched into the dark, spare sound of "Past Mistake" from the new album. It was '90s Bristol all over again, Tricky rapping in a hushed tone about his love for a woman that burnt a hole in his soul.
For the next hour, Tricky seemed content to take the night off, and his Italian backup singer named Veronika Coassolo saved the day, performing lead vocals on almost every track and bringing enough energy to the material to compensate for either illness or apathy on Tricky's part. Coassolo took the reins on a wide range of Tricky songs both old and new, from previously tweaked covers by Public Enemy ("Black Steel") and XTC ("Dear God") to new numbers like "School Gates" and "Puppy Toy."
When Tricky did step to the front of the stage, he gripped the mic with intensity, twitching from side to side and seeming ready to deliver the most passionate vocals of his life. Instead, he was barely audible, and even apologized at one point for his efforts - or lack thereof.
The lone exception was "Council Estate," a scorching new song and the first single Tricky's ever done with just himself on vocals. The track, propelled by a throbbing bassline and a propulsive guitar lick, ran down Tricky's troubled youth in the ghetto for which the new album is titled.
It all came together at the end when Tricky was energized by "Joseph," a song named after a Los Angeles busker with whom Tricky has lost contact. The song started as a light ballad but eventually burst into a soaring, 20-minute track that continued to build around Tricky's sarcastic chant, "You're so special!"
On this night, the Tricky Kid was not so special, but it could have been a lot worse.
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