Yesterday, I expressed a great deal of cynicism about the possibility that Bristol’s long awaited arena might actually appear at Filton. Today, much of that cynicism remains. However, it would be foolish to pretend that last night’s Massive Attack show was anything other than a stunning success. I have never seen anything like it.
The performance centred around their bleak, desolate Mezzanine album of 1998 and, accompanied as it was by a stunning film, the music was as relevant as it was when it was first released. The film, admittedly a little confusing at times, added to the entertainment, even to the extent that a handful of people decided to boo when the then prime minister Tony Blair appeared. I am assuming the people booing would have been Conservative Party supporters who resented the dramatic improvements to the NHS, schools, the introduction of the minimum wage, Sure Start and everything else New Labour did for the country. Doubtless, they would have been cheering loudly had Boris Johnson appeared on screen, but to be fair he was not widely known in 1998. Little bit of politics there, but then Mezzanine is nothing if not political.
For those expecting a conventional rock show, with the band belting out a succession of greatest hits, there will have been great disappointment. This was more a performance than a gig, an experience more than just another generic concert. No repartee with the crowd, no band introductions; just the music. With a record like Mezzanine, there could be no other way.
Surely, Massive Attack were making a massive statement by holding the show in the cavernous Steelyard. It was the size of an arena, but that was where comparisons ended. The sound, though excellent at times, came entirely from the front of the building, which meant that during quieter sections, the sound of several thousand people holding loud conversations was both disrespectful and distracting. I found the facilities were largely terrible, with massively long queues for the food outlets, the ATMs (used mainly because the promised card payment facilities were not available) and the ladies’ toilets. Us men how urinals to use with no hand washing facilities. Sorry: not good enough. Bristol had a glimpse of what an arena could like, with a little added imagination, and the band had made their point.
We walked to and from the event and it seemed to me that the gridlock I promised was not as bad as I expected. Everything was well signposted and although it was a bit of a trek, I was generally impressed with the efforts that had gone into make the evening the success it was.
If, as seems increasingly likely, Filton becomes home to the long-awaited arena, the powers that be will need to get their act together to provide a proper infrastructure, including a rail link, reopening the Henbury loop. And with a new estate soon to be built, so large it will require something like five new primary schools and at least one secondary school, the challenges with regard to the additional road traffic are astounding.
In the here and now, Mezzanine was a huge success. The Steelyard worked as a temporary stopgap and now we need the real thing. And forever more, I can say ‘I was there’. Great is an overused word, but Massive Attack were truly great. And they’re our own.