|Leeds Town & Country Club|
|Still not made
up your mind about how good Tricky is yet? Honestly? Well, listen to this.
Tricky (the band) slide on stage at a cool 7.34 pm tonight whilst a full-scale blizzard blows outside and half of Polly Harvey's crowd (grown-out indie couples, essentially) are still getting over the horrors of the merchandising stand (PJ baseball caps! Fourteen quid!).
Yet as soon as the band, slick-suited just like characters from Portishead's To Kill A Dead Man video (oh irony!), start up the ice-rink rumble of 'Ponderosa', all these things - the half-empty hall, the half-interested crowd - cease to be a disadvantage and instead make this slow time blues more powerful than ever. No mistake. That's how good Tricky is.
And it's all down to the man himself. Standing stock still, centre stage, he broaks out his vocal lines with the sparked-out cool of Shaun Ryder or Terry Hall (a major hero for Tricky, and proof that his band may well be The Specials for the '90). It's a subtle blend; half latent malevolence, half never-been-so-bored sulk, but the effect of his voice makes it feel like a confessional, sucking us in whilst the band's strung-out dub sumbles away underneath. New singer Alison - Martine appears to have vanished in a night of the long knives - is the perfect complecement, sweet of voice and half hidden behind an electric shock frizz, but it's Tricky himself who's the enigma, allowing us a fleeting glimpse into his diaries but never quite letting us in on the full story.
So when he does 'Hell Is Round The Corner' with its carbon copy 'Glory Box' riff, it geel slike this can only be a sideswipe at his so-called peers (he uses
|the motif like
an afterthought, not like a reason to exist). And when that voice cracks
into the fag-ash refrain "So many fings I need to tell you" in 'Aftermath'
you can tell this is a man who is forever telling half-truths, always looking
for a back door. The song itself is a classic already, all forboding and
bad omens, but just as it's building to a climax Tricky stops it dead,
grumbling about the sound on stage.
He apologises straight after ("Sorry, I was getting bored") but it's Tricky all over. Expect the unexpected. And even now, on only the band's second gig together, expect the best.
When he leaves the stage there are no goodbyes, no show of thanks, just a slow shuffle off, and you can't help but think of when his splintered voice whispered "I'll f--- you up the arse, just for a larf" earlier on. This is pop music with the lights off, with us never knowing just how dark it's going to get. Extraordinary.
PJ Harvey, following in the wakr of all this, isn't so much a revelation as a fully-blown choreographed re-invention. Honestly. Here is a makeover so cold-blooded you half expect the band's suits to be splattered of the red stuff.
For a start, all that remains fo the old band is a revamped Polly Jean herself. A fuzz-haired man, 100 years old, stands behind some keyboards (an ex-member of Beefheart's band, apparently). One of the guitarists boasts a stint with Tom Waits in his CV. Seeing sich fare as an opportunity to jump ship from either of her old selves (grouchy indie guitarnik; semi-glam 50ft Queenie) Polly has decided, not unreasonably, to be reborn as Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet.
Arriving in an ankle-length crimson dress, she sashyas centre-stage and
croons out the intro of 'To Bring You My Love" ("I was born in the deserrt
I've been down for years/Jesus come closer I think my time is near")
in almost valedictory fashion as the band go into muso overdrive; devilishly
smooth, ruthlessly efficient. Next thing you know, while you're still getting
over the cocktail lounge mood, the florious emerald green lighting and
Polly's Ava Gardner looks, she's up on the drum riser, hitching up her
dress and whizzing smouldering look sin all directions. You half expect
her to look lasciviously around and then pick up a searchlight with which
to bewitch the crowd, Rattle And Hum style. This comes, believe
it or not, with the next number.
There's still something marvellous about all this of course (Too Pure refusenik to fully-blown diva in three albums is pretty impressive going) but occasionally tonight's re-invention looks just a little too glaring. 'Dress' never quite makes it through the transition unscathed a rip-roaring '50ft Queenie' feels less like a statement of intent than a showbiz two-step, a sweetener for the big push around 'To Bring You My Love'.
But 'Down By The Water' is just great, a whopping buzz of bass and Polly's spider-hand dancing, and the overall reception (rapturous; as near hysteria as a Monday night in Leeds can get) pretty much justifies every aspect of ther makeover.
THe message of the evening, however, couldn't be clearer. This isn't PJ Harvey. She's disappeared and a Vampire Polly Jean has taken her place. And boy, is she after your blood.
photo: Andy Willsher