Tricky: Smokescreen

Updated: Mar 30, 2019

Fabryka Club, Krakow, 5/11/10

Almost God: Tricky at Fabryka

The musical world has changed radically since Tricky’s stupendously popular, genre-inventing 1995 album Maxinquay; trip-hop has become more trippy and occasionally more hoppy, Bristol has stopped being the second most important city for music in Britain, and dance music has fragmented into a thousand different directions. Almost, indeed, as much as Krakow, which has shifted from east to west in that time, and from what was a musical back-water to a place which is starting to develop some fine cutting-edge music of its own, and is now firmly on the European tour map for up-and-coming and established artists. So, Tricky finds himself in Poland, not for the first time, to promote his latest release, ‘Mixed Race’– an album whose cover (not for the first time) captures him behind a cloud of marijuana smoke.

Angels with dirty faces - Tricky's backing band

Bonfire Night is traditionally a night when sparking up is popular in the UK, but this is ridiculous. Bristol’s most infamous anarchist trip-hop producer doesn’t so much ignore the up-coming smoking band in Poland, as flaunt it outright, puffing away at several spliffs as fat as Camberwell Carrots through the course of his performance, and indeed often disappearing stage left at regular intervals, one presumes, to skin up. Not that the audience seems to notice; despite Fabryka being woefully too small for an event of this size – half the crowd are watching at an unenviable angle because of the narrow space available in front of the stage – it appears that the majority couldn’t care less, and are here to enjoy the night. The venue – stuck away inconveniently on the other side of the river in Krakow’s Podgorze area – has not hosted an artist of this magnitude until now evidently, and will need to expand if it’s to be considered seriously for any more in the future. Several technical flaws do not help either – a microphone that keeps falling down has an overweight roadie comically scuttling across the stage every five minutes or so. Teething troubles, one hopes.

Tricky and backing singer Francesca Belmonte

The gig starts out predictably enough; Tricky enters the stage wearing a black cape and mask, to You Don’t Wanna, a magnificently brooding number from 2001 album ‘Blowback’ which samples Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams. He gradually disrobes, as a boxer might, to reveal his heavily-tattooed torsoe – taut and muscular, much as his music is. Whippet-like, you would fancy his chances in a welter-weight bout. Indeed, his request to have a boxing bout before this concert took place was taken seriously until concerned management vetoed the idea. Back to the crowd, dimly-lit, we only get a view of him as he edges towards the stage for the second number, a beefed-up version of the moody, synth-y and utterly beguiling Past Mistake, followed by Really Real, the first of a smattering of songs he introduces from the new album; performed with an increasing rockist abandon, along with Murder Weapon – a tribute to the Blues Brothers – and Kingston Logic – driven by an insistent, 80’s Salt’n Peppa style hypnotic rap - showing there is plenty left in Tricky’s creative locker.

Tricky guided the band all evening, like a conductor

His hoarse, whispered vocal, fruity as you might expect a habitual smoker’s to be, is supplemented by backing singer Francesca Belmonte (or maybe that should be lead singer, given Tricky’s penchante for not actually being onstage half the time). Following a rousing version of Public Enemy’s Black Steel ,another track is plucked from the fine 2008 album ‘Knowle West Boy’. Evolution, Revolution, Love turned out to be a stirring, slow building number that found Tricky guiding the band, as he would all evening, like a conductor, raising and lowering his hands to indicate either a raise in volume or for them to bring things down a bit. And he really lost himself towards the end of the song, bellowing out the lyrics with abandon, thrashing about wildly as the song took him over. Unfortunately, as it is with all Tricky’s shows, he would defer to Belmonte for a good majority of the early part of the set, and while she has an incredible voice that carried many of the night’s songs, she lacks the magnetic, show-stopping persona of Tricky, who spent nearly all of the songs Belmonte was singing with his back to the audience, conducting the band and smoking a steady stream of herb.

Tricky: smoked a steady stream of herb throughout

It’s only with the tenth song however that this changed from a good but flawed gig to one which was utterly shambolic – in the most joyful possible sense of course. Ace of Spades – a cover version of the Motorhead classic – brought the rebel out in Tricky, and he invited the crowd to invade the stage, which they did with the gleeful abandon of children invited to raid the sweet shop. About 200 people swamped the stage, and Tricky went missing somewhere at the back, as the keyboard player and the all-female rhythm section manfully (just about) kept things from descending into utter chaos. The bass player had to repeat the bass line 30 times while the crowd were, reluctantly, ushered back off. Council Estate sees Tricky at his most polemic as he wages class warfare: They call you council estate; “They call you 'can't go straight'/They call you crime rate/They call you 'can't go straight'/And you're bending all the rules”. Bristol to London, another new track, raps geographically: ‘This is Bristol, and this is London/Collaboration east of the junction”. Two tracks from the mighty ‘Maxinquay’ follow – Pumpkin and Overcome – the latter echoing the bass line from Karmacoma – and thus reminding us all, if we needed to be, of Tricky’s earlier massive (attack) ambitions, before all hell is let loose during the encore. An extended version of Past Mistake has Tricky inviting the crowd onto the stage for the second time, and this time there is no holding back; a tidal wave of people force their way onto the stage (thus solving the space problem) and Tricky disappears in the sea of humanity once more, only to reappear a few minutes later, pint in hand, conducting the crowd, organizing chaos. The gig ends with Tricky surfing a sea of hands, mike in hand, still somehow singing. The boy done good – I’m not sure how, but he pulled it all off. Maybe we should all be smoking a bit of what he’s smoking.

Knowle West Boy: Tricky, before all hell was let loose

Photos: Jamie Howard




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