Tricky The Mod Club, Toronto ON December 12

TrickyThe Mod Club, Toronto ON December 12
While the early 1990s downtempo phenomenon known as trip-hop went into hibernation about a decade ago, Massive Attack's recent spat of touring and Portishead's stellar 2008 effort, Third, brought back the gloom. Presumably, Tricky never forgot about the Bristol-bred sound that made him a star, though he did do his damnedest to walk away from it.

Since the release of his critically fondled 1995 debut, Maxinquaye, Tricky's output has been hit and miss at best, with a couple of highlights and a range of ill-advised experiments, from proto-punk to overwrought industrial. Recently, he has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts on records like this year's Mixed Race by toning down some of the cloying influences that marred his mid-period work while still trying to broaden his scope.

Backed by a crack five-piece, including vocalist Franky Riley -- who's more versatile than a Swiss Army knife -- Tricky ran through a rollicking set of diverse sounds, tying it together with perseverant swagger and palpable charisma.

Dancing, smoking, disrobing, drinking, briefly disappearing, hosting two onstage dance parties and hugging scores of happy punters, Tricky had a pretty productive set. Sure, he didn't really sing or play an instrument, but that's never really been his shtick.

Infectiously kinetic, he stalked the stage, grooving his way through a varied set that managed to include covers of both Motörhead ("Ace of Spades") and XTC ("Dear God") without sounding entirely incongruent. Juxtaposing his menacing whispers, growls, and shouts with Riley's robust voice, he created palpable tension that built to catharsis by late-set highlights, the gigantic "Vent" and the brooding "Past Mistake."

While atmospherically druggy numbers like "Pumpkin" inspired sways -- and 1995 nostalgia -- it was frenetic cuts like "Puppy Toy" -- complete with Pearl Harbor breakdowns and boozy keys -- and the sensually groovy "Council Estate" that really scored. Brief, brash, and mostly bombastic, it was a visceral and ultimately sweaty affair that succeeded despite little tripping or, um, hopping.