Originally set to take place at Epiphany Church—arguably Chicago’s most beautiful space to see live music—this show was switched some hours before its start to the larger and immensely impersonal Logan Square Auditorium. There could be no denying it; even the most ardent fan must have felt slightly deflated upon learning of this move as visions of Tricky atop the pulpit, surrounded by religious mosaics, running through a rendition of “Hell is Round the Corner” were quickly dashed and will have to wait.
At the opposite end of the venue spectrum, Logan Square is an actual auditorium much like the ones that house high school dances with one notable difference—instead of drinking from hidden flasks in the bathroom you are offered $5 cans of PBR. Making matters worse the show was bumped from a 7:30 pm start to 9:30 pm “doors open” and they still managed to be late in opening. Now, ultimately this had little to do with Tricky—the venue change was due to an alleged pipe burst in the area of the church—and while we were peppered with reminders of this venue change via the sound, empty space in the room, and lighting throughout, once the music started it quickly became an afterthought.
After an arduous wait, the lights finally went out and Tricky’s backing band slowly sauntered on to the stage and took their respective places. It was amidst this darkness that a thick, slower tempo version of the “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” melody began to fill the room. The rhythm played on as Tricky walked out on to the stage and was immediately bathed in a bright red light. With his back to the audience he began to slowly sway from side to side while clouds from whatever he was puffing began to envelop and swirl about his head, creating a menacing landscape. While this mood would come and go throughout the set, it was never too far away.
The show was in support of Knowle West Boy, his first album since 2003. Taking its name from the housing project where Tricky grew up, it is a serious departure from the musical styles that Tricky built his name and pioneer status upon. That is not to say it is any easier to categorize or classify, but nothing about Tricky ever is. The diversity from one song to the next is apparent from the first listen. Every new track pushes and pulls, at times aggressively so, into whichever direction Tricky seeks to maneuver. His growling, grumbling vocals represent the closest thing to a constant and they are not even present on every track. The music on this album is at times confrontational, utilizing rock guitar that sounds more present in the tracks than usual, and his live performance followed suit.
The patient audience received a good amount of new material such as “Council Estates” and “Joseph”, as well as the opening track to the recent album “Puppy Toy”, but it was more than just the new songs that pinpointed where Tricky is currently located on the musical map, the whole show also signified this. He did play older material such as “Black Steel” and “Pumpkin”, and the show was not without moments of dark atmospheric interludes, but it inevitably always came back around to a brash, full on rock approach. A theme only emphasized when he rolled out a cover of “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead.
As with his albums a female vocalist handled many of the moodier pieces, but for the most part Tricky was the main draw, even though he remained somewhat elusive throughout the evening. Often cloaked in dark lighting and at times even turning his back on the crowd, he was often distant while still managing to exude an imposing presence. It created an interesting contrast for a musician on tour with his most autobiographical work to date. Then again, could Tricky’s live show come across any other way? His recorded music conveys this same feeling; it can be both dazzling and engaging, while never fully allowing you inside. Ultimately, despite Tricky’s immense talents, this intrigue meant the show did not produce any deeper insight into a fairly enigmatic performer. Perhaps if he’d had a chance to climb atop of that pulpit, we would have learned a little more.