George Clinton popularized the phrase “Free your mind and your ass will follow,” but few of his successors have pursued the concept as doggedly as Britain’s Massive Attack. At this, their first Stateside show in four years, the core duo of Robert “3D” Del Naja and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall surrounded themselves with a passel of rhythm-savvy players and — even more vividly — with a dizzying multimedia show that came across like Disneyland’s Electrical Parade as curated by Noam Chomsky.
Drawing heavily from the recently released Virgin set “Heligoland” — the band’s highest-charting disc to date — the band didn’t hammer home its rhetoric in the songs themselves but did rely on some intriguing juxtapositions. As reggae veteran Horace Andy — one of a rotating cast of singers — ramped up the emotion on the bluesy “Girl, I Love You,” an ominous video matched that escalation with an increasing dollar figure signifying money spent on the Iraq war.
Martina Topley-Bird, who opened the evening with a brief set of her own, was the most effective of the phalanx of vocalists, operating at a slow burn that approached neither outright conflagration nor icy freeze. The controlled intensity she brought to languid versions of “Psyche” and “Babel” verged on the breathless, all the better to appreciate the slow, enveloping beats that are the band’s specialty.
While Massive Attack has a relatively sizable catalog to draw from, Del Naja and Marshall chose to focus the two-hour perf almost exclusively on the new set and 1998’s “Mezzanine” — a collection that earned them a reputation as the godfathers of trip-hop. That spacious sound never fully took root in America, but on this night, it certainly bore some sweet fruit.
Massive Attack will perform at L.A.’s Wiltern Theater on Sunday.