Watching Massive Attack perform its first real Los Angeles concert on Sunday at the Hollywood Palladium was a demystifying experience, with both the joys and the disappointments that come with it.
The sound collective from Bristol, England, has been in town before, but at its previous appearances you felt as if you were standing in a huge, futuristic living room listening to records rather than enjoying the electrifying mystique of a live show.
Although "Mezzanine," Massive's latest album, hinted at the ominous Orwellian effects you can achieve by mixing samples with crunchy, distorted guitars, it was still surprising to see the ultimate trip-hop group anchor its sound on the quintessential rock 'n' roll instrument. After all, Massive Attack's three albums have become the emblem of everything that is cool and stylish about '90s electronic British pop. But the sense of urgency and cathartic violence on songs such as "Angel" and "Teardrop" were a far cry from the cool elegance associated with trip-hop outfits such as Portishead or Lamb.
Fuzzy guitars aside, only at times did the touring band assembled by core members Daddy-G, Mushroom and 3-D live up to the daunting task of reproducing the group's exquisite atmospherics.
One of the band's strongest elements has always been the variety of excellent singers it enlists for its recordings. Although Horace Andy and Deborah Miller were highly proficient at the Palladium, they just couldn't match the range of a Shara Nelson, a Tracey Thorn or an Elizabeth Fraser, which is why a tune such as the gorgeous "Unfinished Sympathy" sounded a little flat.
It's commendable for the trio to journey into the exhilarating perils of performing live. For now, however, the studio remains Massive Attack's stronghold.