Portugal.The Man @ MTelus – February 21, 2018

You really get the feeling that every time Portugal.The Man takes the stage it is just another jam session for them. That is totally the vibe they give off. It is like they don’t even realize that people are there watching them. Totally caught up in the music, they dance and move around in an almost dreamlike state. This is doubly true of the bassist Zachary Carothers. At times he was rather tasmanian devil adjacent whirling around (props for not falling down!).

As for their sound it is rather alternative, verging on experimental. Which is totally linked into that jam atmosphere they create. Some of their longtime fans might have worried that with the mainstream success and Grammy they earned in 2017 courtesy of the hit single “Feel it Still” that the band might abandon what they have done up until that point to go with a more accessible sound. Well, that was not the case. “Feel it Still” was buried in the middle of the 17 songs they played. It stood out as the most pop track of the evening. It was short and melodic. Whereas the rest of the short set were long, meandering, guitar heavy, and filled with plenty of solos. A wall of sound.

What followed was rather fluid, as the band moved quickly from one long track to the next. Music came at you pretty much non-stop. The band, now based in Portland, has been together for roughly a decade and they played songs from the entirety of their catalogue. Never the same as they were originally recorded (see the above jam stuff), but reimagined so no one, including themselves, got bored.

Band member John Gourley is from Alaska and I kept thinking about that while watching the lights on the evening. Really active and impressive, they came out into the crowd at times. It almost looked like they were trying to replicate the Northern Lights with them. The neon colours and strobe lights lit up the whole room. At the back of the stage images of human sculptures were projected along with images that were like film melting.

While the visuals were great what wasn’t was the sound. Or more precisely the vocals. Sooooo muddled. While the instrumentation was crystal clear. Strange.

All that was good because there were not traditional spotlights used. I found it a little frustrating because I could hardly see the band members and could most certainly not see their expressions. It sorta did not allow me to connect with them. That is something I require from a band/musician in a live setting. I want to be part of the show with them. We can’t say we weren’t warned as projected on the screen on the back at the beginning was that they were no good at on stage banter. While these clever types of statements appeared every now and then during the show they did keep their promise to not engage the audience. Pretentious hipster rock? Or vibrant and original? That is to be determined.

Setlist:

  1. For Whom the Bell Tolls (Metallica cover)
  2. Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 (Pink Floyd cover)
  3. Purple Yellow Red and Blue
  4. Number One
  5. Atomic Man
  6. Modern Jesus
  7. Live in the Moment
  8. Feel it Still
  9. All Your Light (Times Like These)
  10. Sea of Air
  11. So Young
  12. Noise Pollution
  13. So American
  14. People Say
  15. Sleep Forever/Smile/Hey Jude (Beatles cover)

Encore:

16. Hip Hop Kids

17. Holy Roller/Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen cover)

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