Sunday, September 7, 2008

Concert Review: Tricky, the Trocadero, Philadelphia, Sept. 5

How does Tricky's music translate to a live setting? Well enough, though in a different manner than might be expected. Anyone who's followed Tricky knows that he's rejected his reputation in favor of following his own instincts (including a dogged refusal to make good records for the second half of his career.) One only needs to look at the set-up to guess Tricky's current live approach: he uses a more-or-less standard rock line-up, including live drums. As on his albums, Tricky's live set relies on a female vocalist. I couldn't identify the current singer, but she was definitely no Martina Topley-Bird. The current set seems about as good as it could be without catering to those into trip-hop Tricky and expecting to hear a lot of his voice or more than a handful of cuts off the early albums. Tricky's put out some unconventional and sometimes hard-to-classify music, but today's live show accommodates audience singing and clap-alongs.

Still, it's the vintage material that works the best, even when reworked. His covers of rap classics "Black Steel" and "Lyrics of Fury" got good run-throughs, and "Pumpkin" sounds majestic, mysterious and menacing even when it's a live guitarist instead of samples. The highlight by far, however, was Pre-Millennium Tensions opener "Vent." A paranoid, ashmatic breakdown on record, "Vent" became an eight-minute rise-and-fall, verse and explosion mantra live. When Tricky rocks it up, he goes all-out, grasping the mic with both hands and vibrating on the balls of his feet as he bounces up and down, or pointing to the ceiling and shaking as he shouts like he's singing to a God he's angry with.

The problem is, Tricky isn't always that invested in the show, especially during new material. This is best demonstrated through Tricky's smoke breaks, during which he faces the drummer, does a little back dance and inhales a joint during any song that doesn't involve him - very irritating for the concertgoers suffering in the non-smoking venue. If Tricky needs to be blazed to perform, maybe he should at least cut back to the point where he doesn't need a J every three songs just to keep a buzz going.

Opening for Tricky was Telepathique, from Sao Paulo, Brazil. They were adequate, but far less entertaining than the true opener - the homeless black dude who told my friend and I racist jokes for pocket change while we were waiting outside the venue. ("Do what black people and Batman have in common? Robin! Hahaha, okay last one, what's the best kind of nation? That' a DO-nation, folks, so whatever you've got, coins, bills, Visa, Mastercard...")

Telepathique had the elements to be interesting, a three-piece with a female singer and two vaguely hipster-looking dudes handling guitar, drums, and two laptops. But, true to the slot of an opening band, Telepathique falls squarely under "cool for two songs" territory. Their tunes rotated between three parts: the over-processed '80s dance segments, the driving rock segment where the actual drum kits gets used, and the occasional foray into noise and distortion. It became rote quickly, especially with the lead singer's "tip-toe around the band to the computer/synth table and join the boys" manuever, executed no less than three times. The act just never seemed forceful or raucous enough. The Brazilian element's promised add some swing and swagger to the group never delivered, and the frontwoman seemed sterile even when tossing out rock-star movies like flipping the bird then sliding the finger down between her thighs.

Tricky's show is enjoyable enough, but hard to pin down how successful it is: the crowd seemed enthusiastic, but when I wiggled my way to the second row, I realized that the crowd was diluted enough to allow anyone to saunter up next to me without bumping into anyone. He's putting out decent enough stuff, but the disappointments mean fewer are listening than should be.

No comments: