Since buying the vinyl seven-inch of Safe from Harm in 1991 Massive Attack have been a part of my personal soundtrack. Hugely influential yet somehow indefinable. Even the trip-hop label, invented to find a box into which to place them, failed to do them justice and they regularly rejected it. The early 1990s signalled that the creative heart of developing pop had driven down the M5/M6 from Manchester to Bristol.
But in all that time I have never seen them live.
A support set from long-time collaborator Martina Topley-Bird was wondrously creative. From the understated early-set tunes over subtle click-track and live drums alone, to the astounding virtuosity of a female beat-boxing double-bass player (honest) I was truly entertained. What a voice she has.
Massive Attack displayed their many vocalists, including the gorgeous tones of Horace Andy, some new material and a raid on the back catalogue including several from Blue Lines and Mezzanine. Most of the old tunes were remixed and reunderstood for 2009 which, for me, made it a show and not the equivalent of a band on stage pressing play on their own MP3s. You could sing along but there was so much more to enjoy too. Two hours of fine music which showed many sides to them and to some extent split the constituency. Some talked in the quieter moments of the beautiful Teardrop; others left for the bar during the more industrial heavy sections. For me, that they do both so competently is part of the attraction.
This band has brought the 50 something late 1980s audience along but welcomed the young too. Possibly Blue Lines has been the soundtrack to many bedroom fumblings. One couple near us certainly needed to get a room, lay-by or cleaning cupboard.
The other side of a Massive Attack gig is the politics. A back projector reminds us of the wealth of bankers, the carbon-footprint of aeroplanes and the cost of basic drugs. You aren't allowed merely to love the band; you have to listen to the cause.