The Kinks did it once, that I know of — played the first few minutes of their show in pitch dark. This served to ramp the house up into a loud frenzy. By the time the stage lights clicked on it was mayhem in the auditorium, the fabled kind you hear about but almost never witness, where women are unsnapping bras and throwing their undergarments at the band. Incendiary! I assumed this was what Tricky, the British trip-hopster, was all about when he was performing entire shows in near-total shadow. It turns out I was wrong. When I tell him that I thought his instincts were feral and brilliant — with all the crouching and hiding in the dark during concerts — he says that it was from stage fright. He then adds that the new Tricky stage is a brighter place. “Not pop-star shiny,” he says on the phone from Florida, “but not as dark as before. My performance has changed quite a bit. I’m less shy now.”
Tricky’s early work in Massive Attack still stands as my favorite eon from his discography, but it was his debut solo Maxinquaye that made him famous. There have been seven more CDs since, each of a flavor that tends to make some listeners uncomfortable along the lines of, say, Tom Waits’s Bone Machine. Tricky, like Waits, has a voice that sounds as if he has smoked his esophagus.
The current tour? “It’s got quite a lot of energy. A bit punky. Not like punk rock, but punky. Like, attitude.” He keeps the set list in his head. “I call the songs out. I read the audience during a show. I conduct, so the songs aren’t like they are on the record.” The current performance, he says, is “harder on the body, but easier on the spirit.” It’s a new Tricky: “I’m actually hanging out, meeting people after gigs.”
TRICKY: Belly Up Tavern, Monday, March 23, 9 p.m. 619-299-2583. $23; $25 day of show. 858-481-8140.