Greek Theatre Under Massive Attack

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Silhouettes floated above a rushing stream of genomic coding; each beat feeling so natural that the oaks surrounding the half-bowl venue watched in envy, unable to stop their reluctant swaying to the entrancing flow. Veins pulsated to the same universal heart, brains vibrated to the same sonic echoes, and eyes swallowed the same digital sunrise in a delicate balance of technology and humanity that seeped and moved, taking nebulous shapes and souls.

All in a night's work, one might say.

Middle-aged, tattooed blokes and cronies from around the Bay lit up and held in the new year 5767 with a spiritual and political sermon Friday evening, delivered by trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack at Berkeley's Greek Theater.

Elegant, sexy, and smooth summarized the sold-out show, even frontman Robert "3D" Del Naja's puppet-with-no-leg-strings dancing. The band's set was nearly flawless and eclipsed what turned out to be a disappointing homecoming for NorCal native DJ Shadow, who opened the night with a lackluster lineup of guest appearances and a minimal display of classic solo goodness.

Shadow's greatest contribution to the show was a scratch-happy rendition of "Mutual Slump" from his debut Endtroducing that featured looped visualizations of collapsing oil rigs and headbanging crash dummies. English pop singer Cris James accompanied him for "Erase You," a song that Shadow called "personal" but what was in truth poppy and rather weak.

Nothing was as weak, however, as ex-Lyrics Born member Lateef The Truth Speaker, whose crowd-pumping actually managed to work against him. Note to Lateef: An MC should never make the crowd do more work than him because he is the one getting paid. Therefore, telling the crowd to put their hands up three times every two minutes is a no-no. Second note to Lateef: Don't project a previously recorded, Hasselhoff-quality music video of yourself while performing the song-it's just awkward. Final note to Lateef: Vocal exercises work, and should be used by every entertainer, especially past-their-prime rappers prone to voice cracks. Truth be told.

After the minor speed bump, the show was transformed as the DJ equipment was stripped and replaced with two drum sets, a bass, a keyboard, a guitar, microphones, a glorious skyline of 24 ten foot computer programmed light ladders and a scrolling marquee equal in length. A simple, unadulterated beat was introduced, the lights went on, and all was right.

To fit an impressive 15 year resume into a 90 minute performance will leave any hardcore fan wanting more, but the selection and order of the songs mixed with dazzling lighting resulted in an expansive and moving cinematic effect.

The slow-sparking erotic fervor from 3D's sotto voce and the hypnotic undulating of "Butterfly Caught" lit the fire that burned slow and crackled beautifully through the grainy backbeat and heavenly incantations of "Teardrop" and finally exploded with "Angel," engulfing the drug-numbed audience into a conflagration of crashing cymbals and guitar feedback. Infusing every word with immense heat, "You are my angel" melted as it fell off the tongue, acidulated with passion and completing the transubstantiation of the once ethereal melody. The orchestrated sequence of these three songs from their acclaimed album Mezzanine could not have been better, and although it would be a lie to label the rest of the show as merely fallout from the blast, at no other point in its duration was there the same simultaneous level of intensity and satisfaction.

A correction to this article can be found here.

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