One word that is overused when describing the Knowle West boy known as Tricky is Enigmatic. However, its overused with good reason.
After cutting his musical teeth with Bristol music collective The Wild Bunch and featuring on the fringes of Massive Attack, his solo career has taken many twists and turns. After his mercurial 1995 debut Maxinquaye, his style has moved constantly over his following eleven albums but never in a linear fashion and not always for the best. Tricky has often talked about his childhood being one that moved from one household to the next and never settled. This has obviously shaped the man who has lived his adult life on the move. Living in Bristol, New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles and now residing in Berlin.
The crowd that arrived at The Fonda Theatre was an interesting mix. A broad range of ages, wide variety of styles but most of them had one thing in common. They liked to get high. REALLY high. The dank smell hit you in the lobby and a thick cloud filled the auditorium which was about two thirds full by the time the show started. The band kicked off with Vybes and the sound was nothing short of amazing. With only a few lights shining high above The Fonda stage the form of Tricky could barely be made out with his back to the crowd. I’ve heard stories of Tricky doing whole shows in a Jim Morrison style, facing away from the audience. Frankly, with this stage lighting, it wouldn’t have made much difference. But once the band launched into You Don’t Wanna, close inspection found Tricky to be stalking the stage, grabbing wildly at his shirt and thrusting his hands into the air.
Recent vocal addition Marta Zlakowska’s voice is rich, soulful and hunting all at the same time and provides a perfect equipoise for the snarling, menacing Tricky as they move through New Stole, Amour and The Only Way. The scant lighting changes color but doesn’t do anything further to illuminate the stage. But never the less, this is totally captivating. Tricky seems to wander off stage, wander back on, doesn’t engage with the crowd but still had me mesmerized. A cover of Hole’s Doll Parts features and the light seems to be turned up just a notch. But if the lighting tech was having the night off, the sound engineer was certainly earning his dime. The sound was so good, If it wasn’t for Tricky’s frenetic crashing around the stage, knocking over equipment and the audible pops of dropping mics, I could almost swear they’d just hit the play button on this last night of the tour.
Palestine Girl featured him thrusting the mic to his chest to give his vocal a cavernous distant reverb before manically clawing at the air as this track looped and repeated with no apparent structure. It almost felt like he didn’t really care if the audience were here or not. Although some of the notoriously fickle LA crowd obviously did care, as a sizable portion had already left. When the music finally came to an end, he thanked the crowd in his first acknowledgment of our existence and wandered off stage followed by his band. He came back after a short break with Daughter, Overcome and Sundown and by the time they had got to Vent, the audience interaction increased. Declaring his love for the crowd and his former home of Los Angeles he asked to keep the stage lights on. Although it was barely noticeable they had been turned off. The final track of the night Here My Dear once again, repeated, faded then rose and looped again as he writhed along to the rhythm with vocalist Marta who appeared more than slightly uncomfortable. After a brief introduction of his four-piece band, he thanked us again and left the stage. The lights came up to reveal a more than half empty Fonda.
Clearly some didn’t find this dark, drama infused performance as engrossing as others but I thought this was an amazing performance. It was unstructured, it was confounding but it was all the time enthralling. Which I would probably say describes the man himself. He never changes but always changes at the same time. Probably why the word enigma is constantly returned to to describe him.