Pop review: Massive Attack and the Heritage Orchestra, Royal Festival Hall, London SE1

Pop: Massive Attack and the Heritage Orchestra both play atmospheric sets at the Meltdown festival

Massive Attack
The Heritage Orchestra
Royal Festival Hall, London SE1

'Tonight is a bit of an experiment,' explains Massive Attack's Robert Del Naja, visibly nervous during the opening performance of the Meltdown festival. 'It's about making it up as we go along.' Taking risks is part of Meltdown's ethos and though the curators don't spring any radical surprises - their new material shares the mood of 1998's Mezzanine, evoking the onset of a very tasteful paranoia attack - nor do they deliver a greatest hits set.

Having fulfilled their 'contractual obligations' (the enduringly gorgeous 'Unfinished Sympathy'), they finish with a dense and atmospheric new song 'Dobro', Del Naja's crisp whisper set to keyboards and acoustic guitar. It bodes well for a chilly future.

Three nights later, Del Naja looks more comfortable, lurking behind the mixing desk as the Heritage Orchestra perform Vangelis's classic soundtrack to Blade Runner, newly re-scored from the original keyboard parts. The Greek composer's music invites a certain pretentiousness from audience and performers alike, and tonight has the feel of what beatniks used to describe as 'a happening'. The air in the Festival Hall is thick with incense, Damon Albarn and Aphex Twin are in attendance, and two men leak water into a miked-up plastic box to create the sound of rainfall as we take our seats.

But where the Heritage Orchestra succeed brilliantly is in embracing the more esoteric elements of the work without compromising its rich, haunting atmosphere. As four percussionists tinker away like mad professors - one bowing something that looks like a 16th-century nautical instrument, another coaxing great swirling gusts of sound from a wind machine - the soundtrack's more familiar moments take on new life.

The sultry saxophone part of the famous 'Love Theme' induces a flood of serotonin-like warmth. The wordless vocals of 'Rachel's Song', delivered by Vashti Bunyan, are beautifully understated. And baritone Omar Ebrahim produces a series of startling throaty tics on 'Tales of the Future', as the score draws towards

its close. The Heritage Orchestra's great achievement is to put flesh on the bones of a score so otherworldly.

· For more Meltdown, go to blogs.theguardian.com/music


Ally Carnwath

The GuardianTramp

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