Portugal. the Man is a Portland, Oregon based experimental indie-rock band, fronted by native Alaskan John Gourley. If you haven’t heard the story about this up and coming group, Gourley’s unorthodox upbringing has shaped his musical, and artistic (he designs all of the artwork for the band) talents. Growing up in Wasilla, Alaska, Gourley was raised in a cabin with no telephone, and with the electricity powered by a generator.
Now, I was fortunate to catch Portugal. the Man twice on October 23rd. The first one was at the SoHo Apple Store in lower Manhattan where they played a string of songs that were filmed and recorded for an exclusive iTunes EP (which you will soon be able to buy) to a small audience. Then, a few hours later, I caught them again at the Bowery Ballroom. Since you will be able to hear the first performance soon enough (and let me be the first to say it was stellar), I will focus more on the Bowery performance.
The insanely frustrating thing about trying to photograph Portugal. the Man is that they control their own lighting. Their mixture of strobes and neon colored lights flash and light up the stage in an almost unreal way. Its almost as if they’re trying to recreate Alaska’s natural phenomena - the Northern Lights - right in front of the audience.
With just a backlit stage, the band enters, and the crowd starts cheering. Some have come to expect, and are used to, Portugal the Man’s unique live performance, and others are about to experience it. The bands setup is quite unique - Gourley (keeping his side to the crowd) faces the keyboardist. The only member of the band that faces the crowd is the bassist, Zach, who seems to be in his own world. In fact, they all seem to be in their own world, jamming, and it shows by how immersed in the music they are.
For a relatively recent band (only formed in 2004) they already have an extensive catalog of songs to choose from. From the first song, the band doesn’t stop until the middle of the set, playing jams in between songs, linking them into one massive song.
Halfway through the set, they pause to say that this their last show of their US tour. As they play fan favorites from their albums such as “M80 the Wolf”, “Church Mouth”, and recent hits from their latest album The Satanic Satanist, “People Say”, “The Home”, “Do You” and more, devoted fans sing along to every word. When the song ends and the band dives straight into their jam, the crowd goes into their own world, moving, screaming, dancing, anticipating what song could be next.
As they announce their final song, they immediately rock into their first single, making it last, throwing two different jams into the midst of the song.
They exit the stage, but before they do, they pull a camera out on stage and take a picture of the crowd (a tradition, later added to their facebook page with the date and a caption - “Tag yourself!”).
The crowd starts chanting for one more song, and after a few minutes, they come back on stage to greet the audience once more. Crowd cheering, John proclaims: “This one is an old one.”
The familiar riff of their song Chicago is played and the crowd goes wild. During a break in the song, the crowd belts out “Please, please, speak up. I can’t hear with these clouds in my ears.”
Finishing Chicago, they jump into 1989, and has the crowd sing. Everyone gives it their heart, and upon finishing, everyone exits into the cold, rainy, New York City streets, to wrap up a long night.
Check out Portugal. the Man here and on myspace.
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