Tricky with Martina Topley Bird: Academy 2, Manchester

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Tricky live in Manchester Academy.jpg
Tricky fans gather for a rare performance of seminal album Maxinquaye what Getintothis’ Luke Traynor gets is anything but the expected.


Tricky touched me – he’s like Jesus!,’ enthuses one woman as she exits the packed confines of Manchester Academy 2.
The man from Knowle West had embraced your reviewer too, and ditto approximately 200 others – essentially anyone he could get his paws on, whether dancing with him on stage or down in the pit.
This elongated hugging extravaganza formed the long conclusion of this bizarre, at times compelling, at other times downright shambolic, but never predictable gig.
The night was supposedly a performance to bask in the former glories of the 44-year-old’s seminal album Maxinquaye, replete with the chocolately vocals of his former squeeze Martina Topley Bird. Or at least, that’s what was promised.
The fact we only got a smattering of songs from his trip hop tour de force longplayer maybe shouldn’t have surprised us. Tricky has never adhered to the rule book.
In Manchester, there’s a definite air of expectation in the air. Tonight is one of just three gigs (his tometown of Bristol and London the others) where Maxinquaye, the album named after his mother who killed herself when he was aged just four, will be reprised.
Almost immediately we know it’s going to be an off-the-wall night. Tricky sits cross-legged on stage, and with this stone-dead eyes cajoles the crowd, ‘Don’t be afraid, Manchester.’
Only three songs in, and the whispering, malevolent rapper is beckoning his public up onto the stage. Soon, there’s at least 20 people milling around drummer, bassist, guitarist and Tricky himself. Nobody really knows what’s going on. It’s part comedic, part fascinating, but mainly chaotic.
Typically, the gig ebbs and flows. There’s no way we’re getting any kind of chronological order for our Maxinquaye promise, so we learn to be thankful when a melody or riff surfaces that brings us back to 1995; the record that embodied everything that was the antithesis of the happy clappy Brit Pop era.
Hell Is Round The Corner is instantly recognisable with its Isaac Hayes sample that evokes classic Portishead and it’s one of the few moments when Tricky sticks to any kind of script. Dreamy and hypnotic, the room sways in a sludgy unison.
Topley Bird is consistently angelic and professional throughout, her vocals soaring and searching, against some faltering Tricky sprechgesang that’s at times barely audible amid a stage so black that we can hardly see the performers.
The crowd wills Tricky to stay coherent, which he manages in parts. Sometimes however, he wanders off to the side of the stage leaving a rather bemused Topley Bird to carry the gig on her own, a task which she performs admirably. But, surely she’s used to his unreliability by now. Was it ever not this way?
Her vocals on You Don’t, underpinned with its reggae-infused beat, are an evening standout while the appearance of Tricky’s stablemate Fifi Rong to demonstrate her Bjork-like delivery make us straighten up and take notice.
Tricky, meanwhile, delivers his contributions with a trademark emotional intensity, often screwing up his T-shirt to reveal a sweat-glazed washboard stomach, which is used almost as a pasteboard for the head of his microphone.
The rapper and Topley Bird bicker like an old married couple, she the target for some playful barbs (‘You forgot the words!‘) from her erstwhile boyfriend although, truth be told, it’s Bird that’s often pulling Tricky out of the mire.
The atmosphere down in the crowd is curiously mixed with one exasperated punter shouting, ‘Play us something we know.’
Ironically, the night picks up markedly when Tricky veers away from Maxinquaye, with Murder Weapon and the narrow-eyed menace of Christiansands re-energising his faithful.
Even with the chaos of the previous 70 minutes, we’re still not fully prepared for a sinister and hugely-extended version of Vent, all dastardly backwards guitar loops and increasingly desperate roars of ‘I can hardly breathe‘ from our tortured maestro.
The angry 15-minute lament gives way to another mass stage invasion as Tricky decides it’s time for a plethora of hugs to all and sundry. That’s not enough of a love-in, it seems, and he’s soon down into the crowd wrapping us all in a warm bear hug while expressing his dear thanks that we’ve made the trip.
Despite the wayward ingredients of this 90-minutes, we put a friendly arm on his shoulder. It looks like he needs and wants all the good vibes he can lap up.
After Vent the lights go up and this outlandish performance is over. It takes an age to file out, and after a five minutes wait, I realise why. Fans will not leave without reclaiming their ticket stubs which they had to hand in at the start.
Tricky performs Maxinquaye with Martina Topley Bird,’ the ticket proclaims. A collector’s item for some.
Whether it was a 2012 experiment that worked is another matter. Eccentric is an adjective that will follow Tricky for the rest of his musical shelf life.
Picture by Nick Rice.

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