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On the Culture Front: Massive Attack and The Moth

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It's been four years since Massive Attack toured stateside, so I was very excited to see the legendary trip-hop band at Terminal 5 on Wednesday night. Even with high expectations, they didn't disappoint and delivered an exhilarating hundred minute set accompanied by an equally impressive light show. Halfway through the set, beams of white light shooting upward introduced "Teardrop" (some might know this as the theme from House) as Martina Topley-Bird took the stage. Throughout the song, the lights slowly lowered until they were passing directly over us with a transformative power to the throbbing bass and Topley-Bird's uniquely eloquent phrasing - equal parts seductive and angelic.

She opened the show with a solo set of finely crafted songs that included intricate vocal looping and switching between piano, guitar, and what looked like a xylophone. Unfortunately, her thoughtful set was followed by a blur of noise that was the buzz band Neon Indian, a Brooklyn by way of Austin quartet that blankets mediocre pop melodies with a barrage of sound effects. Thankfully, their set was short leaving plenty of time to cleanse our sonic palate.

During part of Massive Attack's set, a digital display rotated progressive quotes by Howard Zinn among others. One of my favorites: "education can and should be dangerous" was displayed as Robert "3D" Del Naja, Grant "Daddy G" Marshall and the rest of the band took the stage to raucous cheers. I never thought of Massive Attack as particularly political band, but it was a welcome (if sometimes jarring) experience to see thought provoking snippets fly past the screen with the same energy of the impressive light show. There were moments, though, when it simply became a bit too much and felt like reading the Harper's index on a mind altering substance, but the sheer sensory overload had its own pleasure once I stopped trying to retain all the facts that were flashing by. Statistics about water consumption were a particular highlight, especially watching the number stretch across the entire stage when it landed on a certain western country.

Towards the end of the show, the digital display was contrasted nicely by powerful lights shining through it, culminating in a barrage of flashing logos and the encore highlight "Atlas Air," featuring the best riff on Heligoland that wraps around itself as it builds momentum throughout the song until it's impossible to stand still.

The Moth thrills through words, specifically by bringing people together who have great stories to tell. Their last mainstage show on Tuesday, "Saints and Sinners," featured five stories mostly about minor but amusing sins. The most were novelist and Cornell Professor Ernesto Quinonez's confession of stealing small dogs from rich old ladies and then "returning" them for a finder's fee. This canine contrivance was only outdone by Mexican-Mormon Elna Baker's story of a memorable Christmas when she brought home her Irish boyfriend for the first time, in an effort to help him fit in she convinces him to play a harmless prank on her family that spirals out of control in farcical proportions. Brooklyn beer flowed freely throughout the evening, adding to the charm of this singular storytelling series.