Sunday, October 23
After what was pretty much the worst concert experience of my life Friday night--and the night>"/>
After what was pretty much the worst concert experience of my life Friday night--and the night of heavy drinking, debauched shenanigans, and hangover that occurred because of it--by Sunday I was ready for Portishead to rock my world. Full disclosure: I'm a huge fan. When the group's 1994 debut Dummy dropped, I remember bringing the CD to my driver's-ed class, forcing everyone to listen to when it was my turn at the wheel. Since then, the band has been sporadic in their studio releases, even more so with their tour schedule, and with just two other stops on the West Coast, it was going to be an event.
For many of us, it's hard to talk about Portishead without injecting ourselves into the conversation--the band emerged at time when the term "indie rock" was just starting to take shape as the undefinable, arguably dead genre it now is, the same time when grunge was starting to wane just a little; if you were listening to "alternative" music back then, Portishead's sexy, trip-hop landscape was revolutionary.
Those same "first-wave Portishead" fans were out in full force last night, going crazy when tracks like "Sour Times," "Mysterons," and "Glory Box" showed up on the set list. It was an all-ages show, but folks around the 35-year mark dominated the crowd, giving it the feel of some kind of psychic high-school reunion with all the stoners (there were more than a handful puffing away) and all-black-wearing beatniks of many a formative year.
The band strode onstage shortly after 9 p.m. and began with "Silence," the first track off their most recent album, 3. A sputtering, schizo film reel accompanied the rest of the show, visually propelling the music's driving immediacy. The backdrop was further enhanced by an unexpected surprise: live instruments and a six-piece band. Of the three principal members, Adrian Utley alternated among bass, acoustic and electric guitar, and keys and effects; producer and drummer Geoff Barrow expertly manned a drum kit and guitar; and Beth Gibbons rocked her haunting, sultry croon. Three other musicians rounded out the complex setup of drum kits, synth boards, and a rotating parade of guitars, but it all worked seamlessly, serving to prove that even synthetic sounds can actually be acoustic ones in disguise.
That melding of sound is what I love most about the band, an idea best illustrated last night with "The Rip," when the band stripped down to a three-piece and Gibbons' voice replaced the theremin's traditional eerie humming with her own wavering vibrato. Utley slowly merged into the mix with a brooding, pulsing guitar that gently pushed the song to its natural end. It was the best of what they do: a delicate balance between Gibbons' fragile vocals and her soundtrack's highly detached world, ushering our own muddled, strangely evolving existence into view with tender clarity.