Review: Messa ‘Live At Roadburn’

Sometimes you see a band live and you realise very quickly that you are seeing an artist(s) at the top of their game. Not just that you’ve been lucky enough to see them on a ‘good night’, more that you recognise a performance of such quality that you’ll look back on it in years to come and say ‘I saw them on that tour’ and everyone nods in reverence.

Messa 'Live At Roadburn'
Messa ‘Live At Roadburn’ Artwork

I saw Messa earlier this year in Liverpool and had precisely that experience. The band were so tight – I don’t remember a single duff note – and Sara’s voice and presence so calming yet intense. Guitarist, Alberto, deserves special mention at the moment (especially for a gig by the Mersey) as his Gibson SG, fur-collared coat, moustache and shoulder length hair make him an absolute dead ringer for George Harrison circa 1969!

Messa could have played for three hours that night and no one in attendance would have batted an eyelid. They played a set which spanned all three of their albums, which was ideal for me as I honestly can’t decide which of them is my favourite – they all have huge merit. I turned to my pal in the crowd at one point and said, ‘it would be such a shame if this tour wasn’t recorded at some point’. We’ll have to see whether that wish transpires, but within a couple of days of that UK jaunt, Messa announced the release of this record, Live At Roadburn 2022, so clearly my excitement levels were high.

At the time of writing this review, the digital version has been available for a few weeks, whilst CD and vinyl versions are being released by Svart Records (lots of colour variations to get your mitts on) but have been delayed slightly (are we still blaming Adele for vinyl delays?) and are slowly becoming available depending on your retailer of choice.

As it happens, this Live At Roadburn album is a very different animal to the 2023 touring beast that I saw. This set was performed by an expanded eight musician line-up in an attempt to replicate the complex arrangements that Messa delivered with last year’s Close album (a record I had at number 3 in my top ten, but which could have quite easily been two spots higher). So rather than a ninety-minute tour through their entire creative output, what we have here is four tracks, all from Close, specifically chosen to make best use of the extra instrumentation.

One thing I don’t quite understand (and I haven’t seen any reason for this referenced in any interviews or press releases) is why we don’t have the full show. The set was made up of eight tracks – all from Close – or alternatively, it may have been the album performed in full. The interweb seems wonderfully confused about the whole event, and even the two people I personally know who attended can’t agree on what Messa played! Also, the four tracks we do have don’t appear to have been consecutively played, so that would appear to rule out technical problems with the recording. Would I have welcomed the entire set? Yes. Do I trust that Messa have good reasons for delivering a concise four-track, forty-minute live album instead? Absolutely.

All of the musicians are firing on all cylinders by this point, and Sara’s vocals are just huge…

So, with all of the he-said she-said out of the way, I really should concentrate on the actual album for a moment. It kicks off with Suspended, which I’ve previously said was my favourite song from last year. It’s a track that I haven’t become even the tiniest bit tired of (and I’ve listened to it A LOT) so a live version is a bit of a gift. Straight away we can breathe a sigh of relief with regards to the production. One particular Live At Roadburn release that landed fairly recently (but will remain unnamed) was really disappointing in the sound quality stakes, but happily Messa’s document is firmly in the very good category.

It sounds almost studio quality at times, and all the more so because the playing is so precise… but this leads to my one and only criticism of this first track; it sounds just a bit too clean and precise – almost as if the addition of the extra musicians led Messa to hold back just a couple of percent. I’m splitting hairs though, as I could just as easily have said that this version of Suspended is ‘technically perfect’, so you’ll form your own view after listening for the first time.

To my ears, this very slight reservedness is consigned to the first track only, as the arrival of Orphalese sees Messa open up and groove and swing in the way that they did when I saw them live just a few weeks ago. This track, together with 0=2, sees the additional musicians make the most prominent contributions and it really does make for such a strong presentation of these songs. Clearly, the band themselves agree as right now they are back on the road for a further short run of dates with the same extended line-up. Sadly, there are no UK dates for this tour – such a shame, but I can imagine that the additional costs of bringing such a large travelling circus to this side of the English Channel are exorbitant, so I won’t hold it against them.

On to the final track, Pilgrim. I think there is a reason Messa chose to put this as the album closer, as it might just be the definitive version of the song. To my ears, this performance eclipses the studio version. All of the musicians are firing on all cylinders by this point, and Sara’s vocals are just huge. On more than one occasion I’ve found myself listening to the full album and then skipping back to hear Pilgrim again, and it’s gotten better every time I’ve heard it.

So, in summary, Messa Live At Roadburn isn’t one of those live albums that comes to define an artist; Live And Dangerous, Live In Leeds, or If You Want Blood You’ve Got It… this isn’t. And nor would it be the first-choice album to give to a Messa virgin to convince them of their unearthly brilliance. But what it is, is a gift to those of us already invested in a band that really are one of the leading lights of our genre. It rightly claims its place on my shelves next to Close. Hopefully, the Messa collection will grow very soon with a 2023 tour document… because at the moment I’ll gladly grab any Messa I can get my hands on!

Label: Svart Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: David J McLaren