At this very moment, the members of Massive Attack may be searching for shocking statistics specific to this city that will rile up the audience at their show tonight.
As the band’s live performances have evolved in the past few years, the members have gotten quite comfortable playing in the shadows of a giant digital screen that broadcasts stats varying from humorously irreverent to uncomfortably confrontational, all in perfect accord with the band’s dark, hypnotic, trance-y tunes.
“We’ve worked out ways of being able to minesweep information when we go to a city, and also get stuff [every day] from the Internet to try to keep it relevant — or if the case may be, irrelevant and ridiculous,” says group leader Robert Del Naja, who is also known by the alias 3D. “There’s a bit of prep and a lot of scanning when you get to a place.”
Del Naja says that these messages — which range from criticizing celebrity-obsessed culture to suggesting hypocrisies in democracy to illuminating philosophies on the human condition — are meant to stimulate and provoke, not preach.
“We know how difficult the system we live with in the U.K. is and how many contradictions and injustices we’re surrounded with in our own country, so we’re never wagging our fingers,” he insists.
Still, the ticker behind the band is unapologetic in its “Matrix”-like delivery of numbers and facts. You will likely walk away reminded of how the government could have handled Hurricane Katrina better and that you could probably do more to help fight AIDS in Africa.
“It’s basically anti-shrug technology,” says Del Naja with a laugh. “If it becomes something which you can shrug your shoulders at, then it’s been an absolute waste of time. If it provokes something more toward annoyance, maybe they’d be confronted with something and they don’t like it — I’d rather that then the shrug of the shoulders.”
Zinn a Massive influenceMany key quotes on the screen behind the band come from the late, great Howard Zinn. Del Naja regrets never getting to meet the Newton-based writer before he died earlier this year. How did he get turned onto the author of “A People’s History of the United States”?
“By an unlikely source: the actor Colin Firth,” Del Naja says.
“Colin is a really cool guy. I worked on a film for him a few years back called ‘In Prison My Whole Life,’ and we met through that. He was producing the film and he’s also very vocal in his support for various causes.”