By Doug Levy
Arizona Daily Wildcat January 30, 1997
The strange realm of Tricky
January 23, 1997
There's a full moon out tonight and there's a certain dark magic in the air. It seems perfectly natural, though, considering tonight is the night that Tricky comes to town. On the way to the club, I can already feel that "pre-millennium tension" in the air. Everything takes on a darker countenance, while hidden things lurk silently around, alive with electricity. There are strange forces at work here.
Opening act Jeru the Damaja dropped off the tour a few shows back, so inside the club, there's only one thing to wait for. When the lights go down, Tricky and his band silently take the stage. The band itself is the first surprise. Almost all of Tricky's songs are completely electronically driven, so to see live musicians on stage was quite strange. As it turned out, all of them, with the exception of the drummer, were really no more than figureheads. They mostly stood around, barely playing, leaving most of the work to the massive sampler behind Tricky himself.
The second surprise is Tricky himself. On his albums, Tricky usually takes a backseat as a vocal performer to the silky-smooth stylings of cohort Martina. Live, however, Tricky steals the show. As soon as he grabs the mic, the man begins to shake, feet planted on the ground, body vibrating wildly, with his head rocking from side to side as if possessed. In between lyrics, his tongue darts quickly in and out of his mouth, a serpent on the stage. He's actually entrancing to watch. As for Martina, that's surprise number three.
There's a woman on stage wearing Martina's trademark-for-the-tour silky pajama-like outfit, singing Martina's songs, but there's something about her that's off. First, she doesn't look quite like I expected her to, but I write that off to the dim lighting. Next, she refers to lyric sheets for more than one song. Finally, when she sings, there is something lacking in her voice, and her stance and bearing seem to indicate boredom more than the radiating cool we crave. When a friend of mine met her after the show, and told me it wasn't Martina at all, I was all too ready to accept it. I have since been unable to confirm this, but, if true, it explains the main fault of the show.
Tricky remains mesmerizing, though. Almost every song off of Pre-Millennium Tension is played, dragged out, rehashed, and driven into chaos by the end. Tricky is showing us what it's like in his paranoid world and you can't fight the pull. The drummer is incredible, the one live musician who belongs on stage and adds a searing intensity to the programmed sounds. Halfway through the third song, a new song that is the best of the show, there is a sudden explosion. There's a bright flash of light and a high-pitched wail, and when we recover, Tricky is standing on stage holding his chest. Feedback has blown one of the speakers and sent the stage into momentary chaos. Suddenly, instead a supernatural creature onstage, there is just a man. "Bloody hell," he says. "I thought I was dead, there."
As they struggle to get the music going again, there is a brief break where some drugged-out local kid takes over the mic until he's escorted off stage. The lights go down again and the illusion is restored. The show goes on. There are a few songs thrown in off the first release, Maxinquaye, but they are mostly throwaway, considering they are Martina-driven, and considering Tricky's current distaste for that album. The lighting is never more than a pale blue or green glow, sometimes no lights at all, but that's all we need. It's enough to know that Tricky's there, summoning the spirits that drive him, that drive us all tonight. We have had the opportunity to see Tricky reveal himself as the man he is tonight, but that doesn't change a thing. The magic is still there and it's not for the weak of heart. At the end, there is no encore, but it doesn't make my list of surprises. The crowd is depressingly unmotivated. No matter. I know what I've seen here, and I'm sure others do, as well. Not everyone can get it, you know. Not everyone is lucky enough.