This past Saturday night, May 7th, I headed down to the House of Blues in Anaheim to check out Portugal. The Man in concert for the second time. The first time I saw this strangely wonderful band play was last October at the El Rey, and I was relatively unfamiliar with their stuff. Now wholly enamored with 2009’s Satanic Satanist, an owner of the majority of their albums (2007’s Church Mouth will by my next endeavor), and excitedly awaiting their next album, In the Mountain In the Cloud, due out this July, I was really excited to see them.
I arrived at Downtown Disney, had to convince myself to not go to Disneyland, and walked through the open street of shops and restaurants, complete with an outdoor stage occupied by a live band playing swing music to a busy dance floor. Along the way, I ran into P.tM’s very bookish and nerd-chic (for lack of a better word) keyboardist, Ryan Neighbors, hanging out with guitarist Cody Votolato (of Blood Brothers fame) from the opening band, Telekinesis. I stopped and said hello as they headed off to grab a cup of coffee. Excited at my fortuitous encounter, I skipped off to the venue. I walked in to the cool, dark hall and stood on the floor before a big patchwork curtain. Ads blinked on TVs as I waited, and the crowd around me chattered anxiously.
The music began with the first opener, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. This New Zealand band was relatively boring, to be frank. I noted a total of about 4 people in the audience that seemed to be feeling the set (i.e. dancing, head nodding, cheering). They had no stage presence and even less energy. The drummer seriously looked like he hated his life. His cymbal crashes were so uninspired it was almost comical. The lead singer made no sense to me in his peach orange tunic and short brown bowl cut, and the bassist hid behind a head of white-blonde hair. They had interesting sounds, just repetitive and unvaried. The vocals were sort of cool—lead singer __’s voice is simultaneously raspy and high pitched. I imagine these guys would be better on a recording, but in person they were a bore (especially when in anticipation of P.tM).
Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Cheer up drummer, it’s not so bad.
The next band to open was Seattle-based trio Telekinesis, who was mercifully more entertaining. They were high-energy, and their songs were fast-paced, full, and fun. They reminded me of a more indie version of Taking Back Sunday without as strong of vocals. Drummer/singer Michael Benjamin Lerner head-bobbed as he sang like he was cruising to “What is Love“ from behind a drum-set with a neon pink and green TK taped on to it and Gumby and Pokey dolls chilling on it. At one point, guitarist Votolato (who I met before the show) looked like he was literally scribbling on the guitar, producing a pterodactyl-sounding scream to amp up their sound; he certainly stole the show, often walking to the front of the stage and just screaming in some animal rage. Awesome. Next, Neighbors, the keyboardist from P.tM, joined Telekinesis on stage for a song called “Dirty Thing”, which was cool. But, the crowd, including me, still felt antsy to see the main act. Overall, I was impressed enough by Telekinesis to pick up an album, so keep an eye out for them more on Bestnewbands.com.
Finally, the time arrived to see P.tM. When the music finally started playing—a burst into “Sleep Forever”, a track that has already been released from their new album—I eagerly awaited the kitschy curtain to pull back. However, those cruel temptresses from the band played along behind the curtain while a mini-movie played on the TVs around the venue. Dogs bounced around on screen and all I wanted was to see the band.
Portugal. the Man’s cover art for the upcoming album In the Mountain In the Cloud (in characterisic P.tM style).
However, as P.tM finished up their first song and headed into “We Got It All” the video developed a story. I watched a journey by dogsled, a pack of dogs and their owner who I figured out now was John Gourley, and tried to put the pieces together. Then there were drops of blood and something went wrong and Gourley was trying to figure it out and he seemed stranded and he had a shotgun and was walking in deep snow. I think he was trying to hunt for food but then he was running and then he tripped and set off the gun and shot himself in the head and my hand clapped over my mouth. Dramatic pause. The song continued with camera shots as if from beneath him in the snow of him singing while the snow turned red around him. Then the dogs ate him, while occasional flashes of the same hungry dogs playing with and licking the now-dead character blipped on the screen. It was morbid but also strangely happy—very P.tM to say the least. Whew.
Portugal. the Man all bathed in blue light and poetic stuff like that.
Finally the curtain opened and the band stood in front of a backdrop of a mutant Mount Rushmore-like display of dripping colors and perverted faces and strange looking things. Now, let me just explain, I could hardly take notes during this performance because it was so hypnotizing. Every track was somehow melded together but so distinctly its own living thing. P.tM’s live performances are known for their originality, and this one held up that standard for sure. Seeing a P.tM concert will never just be a regurgitation of the album—they blend songs, speed up songs, slow down songs, add in the epic-est of epic jam sessions, and almost always succeed in blowing everyone’s mind. Their songs are so dominating and overpowering and room-filling, but, at the same time, Gourley’s voice is light and eerie and ethereal. It’s like being afraid to approach the Wizard of Oz—green and all powerful and mystical—but then you’re lured in by an adorable cuddly kitten and you realize it’s not so scary (Ha-hah, METAPHORS!).
A rare moment of Portugal. the Man not in shadows.
The visuals of this show were amazing as well. The lighting was unbelievable, and I always want to thank whoever does the lighting because it can really contribute to and even make or break a show. For this set, there was haze when haze was due, there were green and red bursts of lasers that you want to reach out and try to touch, there were flat green beams of light that broke over heads of people and guitars, and there were reds and purples and blues and greens and whites and flashes to stimulate your eyes and take you out of reality. The lighting of the show was also interesting in that the band remained mostly obscured throughout the entirety of the show. There was never really any direct light on them, and they appeared in silhouettes or in and out of shadows. The drummer was merely a reflection of cymbals. I, personally, thought this to be intentional and calculated for a mysterious effect; I could see others being annoyed by this though. I imagine it was done for more of an emphasis on the music than on the band itself. I dig.
John Gourley welcomes us to: the FUTURE.
Anyways, because there’s no point in trying to describe each song individually—they stand on their own while making a beautiful and cohesive collective—I will list what they played. After “We Got It All” the played a mixture of “How the Leopard Got its Spots” and “The Home”, “Guns & Dogs”, “Do You”, “Senseless” (off the new album), “The Sun”, “So American” (also off the new album), a more complete version of “The Home”, in which my only note is “SO GOOD”, “The Woods”, “Mornings”, “New Orleans”, one I didn’t know that was sort of a P.tM version of a Marvin Gaye slow jam, “Shade”, “60 Years”, “People Say”, and “AKA M80 The Wolf”. The encore was a unique, extended version of “And I” that went on for about 10 glorious minutes or so. It was over too fast.
UPDATE: Thanks to Oliver Johnson via Facebook, I have been informed that the encore was a mix of “Stables & Chairs” and “And I”, rather than only “And I”. Thanks for letting me know, Oliver! (P.S. Oliver is a pretty sweet name. Just thought you should know.)
Check out P.tM’s “Do You” live at Southpaw in Broolklyn on June 17, 2009 from the band’s YouTube Channel.
Catch Portugal. the Man’s next show (with Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Telekinesis) on Wednesday, May 11th, at the Black Sheep in Colorado Springs, CO. Click here for info and tickets.
Here are more upcoming dates:
MAY 11 Colorado Springs, CO The Black Sheep
MAY 12 Fort Collins, CO Aggie Theatre
MAY 13, 14 Denver, CO Bluebird Theater
MAY 17 Kansas City, MO Record Bar
MAY 19 Little Rock, AR Revolution Music Room
MAY 20 Dallas, TX Granada Theater
MAY 21 Houston, TX Fitzgerald’s Upstairs
MAY 22 Gulf Shores, AL Hangout Music Festival
MAY 25 Columbus, OH Outland Live
MAY 26 Cleveland, OH House of Blues
MAY 27 Toronto, ON Lee’s Palace
MAY 28 Syracuse, NY Westcott Theatre
MAY 29 Danbury, CT Festival Fields @ Western CT State University
MAY 30 Burlington, VT Higher Ground
JUNE 3 New York, NY Webster Hall
JUNE 4 Hunter Mountain, NY Mountain Jam Music Festival
JUNE 7 Pittsburgh, PA Mr. Small’s Theatre
JUNE 8 Baltimore, MD Ram’s Head Live
JUNE 9 Asheville, NC Orange Peel
JUNE TBD Manchester, TN Bonnaroo
Check out their tour schedule from their offical website here.
Photos: All photos used with permission by Musashi Schroeder
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