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Massive Attack at BST Hyde Park, 1st July 2016

| Dance, Festivals, Music, Parks | 07/07/2016

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By Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park got off to a superb start on Friday with solid performances from Ghostpoet, TV on the Radio and the ever-combative Patti Smith, before headliners Massive Attack took to the stage.  By then, the rainclouds that had earlier brooded and spat dissipated and Bristol’s finest were handed a perfect evening to deliver a typically understated, dark and restless set that tied in perfectly with the prevailing frustration of the times.    

At first glance, BST’s opening line-up looked too diverse: shoehorning rap, indie, folk-rock and trip-hop into a handful of hours.  In the end, it worked perfectly as a powerful message ran through each act.  And if any of the 65,000 present missed it, it was emblazoned onscreen at the evening’s end: despite all the divisive crap going on, “we are in this together”.  

BST’s fourth year at Hyde Park showed its organisers have things down to a fine art: countless and quality food and drink outlets, clean and plentiful toilets, patient but effective crowd control.

33-074f3552a6However, BST can’t control the weather and for a while the forecast looked gloomy for the whole weekend.  Maybe that’s why the crowd was so thin during Friday afternoon.

But those who stayed away missed out.  On the Barclaycard Stage, British MC Ghostpoet gave a typically raw performance unravelling hard-hitting tracks from his 2015 album, Shedding Skin, and 2011’s critically-acclaimed Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam.

At the main platform, the Great Oak Stage, TV on the Radio showed what a great afternoon act they’ve become, even if that damns them with faint praise.  Switching stylistically from Fine Young Cannibals to Blur, their variety keeps the crowd guessing but it’s also a weakness: without more consistency, the New Yorkers can’t expect to feature higher up the bill.  It was noteworthy that Tunde Adebimpe’s energetic and soulful vocals were far better received than those tracks led by bassist Kyp Malone.

1-978ee6691aThey soon gave way to their compatriot, Patti Smith, from whom Father Time has taken a little energy and a lot of hair pigment, but left untouched a challenging voice and desire to ‘sock it to the man’.

Smith was excellent, the punk poet laureate delighting loyal fans and introducing her unique brand of irritable folk-rock to a generation not even born when her debut album, Horses, was released in 1975.  With her quirky lyrics and rhythmic pace, it’s no wonder Smith was such an inspiration for REM amongst others.

Because The Night met most recognition, but it was Land that mobilised and warmed the crowd to Smith’s stubborn defiance.  “We can’t separate ourselves from the great human family,” she yelled to great cheers, a pointed dig at the Brexiteers.

As Smith finished, a brief downpour cleansed the palate before Massive Attack appeared, all low-slung energy, scowls and overt messages about hate-mongering and division.  And these multi-ethnic, heavily politicised, constant collaborators are well-placed to comment.  Robert ‘3D’ del Naja told the crowd: “We’re sons of immigrants, so we’re very disappointed with the situation.  But we can’t allow ourselves to fall victim to the populist bullshit going on.”

Although this sentiment wasn’t new, it was good to hear Massive Attack’s distinctive voice again.  The group have been away too long – other than a solid collaborative EP, Ritual Spirit, released earlier this year – but showed their style retains relevance and their hits remain timeless.

26-247b6af678The set wasn’t perfect.  Del Naja’s downbeat demeanour and minimal interaction jarred a little following Smith’s rabble-rousing showmanship.  And there was too little of Tricky – despite the hype surrounding his long-awaited return – and Horace Andy, who was wheeled on for one short burst of reggae before returning to hospital nursing a broken leg.

Young Fathers contributed four tracks of decreasing quality, although they added energy.  In contrast, Azekel provided haunting vocals to the recent EP title track, Ritual Spirit – a darkly welcome return to form – and Tunde Adebimpe reappeared to showcase his versatility.

Despite imperfections, the set was intoxicating at times, transporting thirty-somethings to long-lost clubs and house parties whenever indulged with tracks from Blue Lines and Protection.  Safe From Harm was outstanding, even with Deborah Miller stepping in for Shara Nelson.  But the biggest reception was saved for the moody Eurochild, which del Naja said was “written at the birth of the European Union”.  As the bass kicked in, he muttered that he “didn’t realise we’d be playing it as a requiem.”

27-13c278a7d6The visual backdrop remained simple but seditious: xenophobic headlines, images of suffering, an airport departure board listing cancelled flights across Europe.  It should’ve been depressing.  Instead, it seemed to serve as a call to action: a warning of what’s ahead unless we start to work together.

Heeding this message, the weather behaved, as did the crowd: no hint of the shoving and bottle-throwing from last year’s Wireless festival, owing a little to the strong-scented weed filling the night sky and a lot to the trance-like trip-hop beats.

For an encore, Massive Attack returned with a full orchestra for their most popular track, Unfinished Sympathy.  And what a way to finish: a spectacular sound and light show symbolising hope through unity, starting BST 2016 in style.

Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park runs until Sunday 10th July 2016.  For tickets and information, head to the official website.  All images above are used with the permission of BST.

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