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[whitespace] Tricky Raps

Trip-hop pioneer Tricky foregoes dreamy synths to rock hard at the Catalyst

By David Espinoza

IT'S OFFICIAL. The resurgence of rap-rock by artists (to use the word generously) like Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit has seeped so deep into today's musical landscape that it's even infecting musicians from as far off as England. How else can one explain the fierce posturing that trip-hop mastermind Tricky brought to the Catalyst Oct. 1?

A quick sample of the infamous DJ/rapper's latest effort, Juxtapose, for all of its nods to hip-hop and pop, gives little hint of how explosive the man can become once the mic is in front of him and hundreds of eyes are staring. Even on heavier tracks like "Hot Like a Sauna," it's hard to imagine the material being revamped into an almost Rage Against the Machine-like form. And yet transforming Juxtapose's dreamy synths and techno beats into a full-blown live performance worked just perfectly.

In contrast to recorded material, where Tricky's soft-spoken but intense rapping usually backs up lead singer Angela Murrel's soulful voice, the Saturday show allowed him to outshine everyone. Supported by a very tight band, with massive speaker stacks towering on both sides of the stage, Tricky attacked the mic like a boxer--slouching forward and dodging side to side, throwing the occasional jab. Such aggressiveness didn't seem to lack targets as Tricky lashed out lyrics like "I'm not a fire starter 'cause I'm a little smarter"--perhaps a shot at fellow Brits Prodigy for their hit "Firestarter."

Balancing the equation was the ever-sultry Murrel (replacing longtime Tricky collaborator Martina Topley Bird), who brought the house down with the cyberpunk-like tune so ethereal that I didn't catch the title. Other highlights of the night included the classic "Ponderosa," as well as new material like "I Like the Girls."

There were, however, weak points in the show. Tricky tended to pull a Jim Morrison and keep his back to the audience, and at times he chanted the same verse over and over. Both are well-known Tricky-isms, but they play better in the studio than live onstage. On the other hand, it might not have made much difference if he had faced front, since the stage remained dimly lit with shades of blue, green and purple throughout the night.

Posers in the House

Back to the issue of crap rock--er, rap rock. 311 must have felt like royalty, given the response they received at the Catalyst Oct 11. Considering the large surfer/frat-boy element in SC, it should come as no surprise that the rap-reggae-funk quintet easily sold out the second-biggest venue in town while Tricky could not.

Needless to say, ticket sales don't equal talent, and 311 has always been sort of a Bud Light version of the genres it imitates. For one thing, vocalists Nick Hexum and S.A. Martinez aren't exactly exceptional rappers, nor are they particularly skilled at singing dance-hall reggae (though they do try). 311 is basically a watered-down ripoff of white-boy funk (early Red Hot Chili Peppers, Infectious Grooves) and rap-flavored reggae (Sublime). Even "Life's Not a Race," one of the better songs from their new album, Soundsystem, is just a revamped Santana cover. And while the show certainly had its moments, as when they performed "Independence Day" (from Grassroots), most of the night was filled with loud, obnoxious, shallow tunes only made worse by Hexum's repulsive dancing.

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From the October 6-13, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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