“If You Love Portugal. The Man Say F*CK YEAH!” REVIEW: Portugal. The Man @ Troubadour 10/27/16
Los Angeles, CA- Portugal the Man is dope. Before they even start, they just look like they’re gonna bring it. The stage is set up with the standard band accoutrement but also prepped for cello and violin. Good to see strings making a comeback. See them in some of the Americana bands that are out there, but it gets me super amped to see them in the mix with a more rock oriented production. The stage is all freaky too. A network of big white plastic or glass orbs is draped across the stage like a fishing net made out of volleyballs. It looks kinda like Goliath or Paul Bunyan shot a fat load on the stage.
Right away, you notice they sound a little grungier, a little harder, a little heavier live than they do in their recorded material. But they maintain all the rich textures and layers that make the albums so infectious and the edginess does a nice job of setting up the room for a sharper turn and starker contrast when they hit the soft melodic bridge that appears in a lot of their music.
Another one of the many things that stands out in the live show is the effect of the harmony and interplay between the different voices on the stage. There’s this odd symphonic mix of elements that give almost every song a chorus that is superlative by almost any metric. A pure sense of anthem. Could’ve closed the show with any of the first five songs they played. And that’s one of the only criticisms I have of the band – and one of the reasons I love them – spin the wheel of fortune and the needle is bound to land on a song that has that “walk off” / “drop the mic” energy. The formula is near perfect. A rhythmic shift as they oscillate from shred to ease-back to shred to chorus to drop-the-mic-fuck-you-we-out. Gets me every time.
Is it weird to compare them to Oasis? I kinda hate Oasis. The Gallaghers are such little bitch boys. But their songs can come on any juke box in any shitty bar in the world and trigger what we all recognize as the “Sweet Caroline” effect. The second you hear it, you know you want a piece of that chorus as you throw your sweaty arm around some hairy guy you don’t know. You get that vibe with Portugal. The Man. But with the added benefit that they’re soooo less douchey.
They get the crowd all fucked up on the musical equivalent of pop tarts and Mountain Dew (can’t count the number times John Gourley screams “fuck yeah”) and yet at the same time there’s an intelligence and sophistication to the lyrics and the composition that ties it all together.
Even the solos are tight. I can get antsy during guitar solos but with PTM, it’s cool. They earn that space and they use it wisely. The solos keep the crowd right in the oceanic curl, the ebb and flow of energy that spells out the macro-narrative arc that carries each song so successfully from soup to nuts. And I love when they let Zoe Manville take the reins on vocals. Her voice is sick. Not that Gourley’s isn’t. His range and control are masterful. But when her pipes are out front and the dudes are filling in behind her, it’s more than viral. It’s ebola. And regardless of who’s on the mic, they have so many songs that feel that way.
Why do people even wear clothes to a show like this? That’s this packed? That’s this good? You’re gonna sweat through everything anyways, might as well take it off. Maybe not the chonies. But shirts feel pointless tonight. Just look at the guy playing cello. How stoked is that guy? Like a Gandalf YoYo Ma with his long white hair flowing down his back, rocking out. Dude has probably been slaying cello since before most of us were born. But I saw Mozart in the Jungle. We know cello players don’t make dick with the philharmonic or the symphony. So hooking up with PTM for a tour? So rad. Hope he’s getting paid! Violin guy too.
If you’ve ever read my write-ups, you may know how much I love when the audience is in it. When PTM plays “So American” it feels like 100% of the sold out, crowd is screaming the words. Which makes it such a different experience. It’s no longer a recital. It’s not a one directional delivery. It’s a dialectic; a collaboration. Something totally new emerges from the intersection of artist performance and crowd participation. In an age of neo-tribalism, everyone knowing and singing the words creates a momentary bond between otherwise unknowns. For three to five minutes, everyone in that room shares blood. You’re on the same page as you recognize a common past and revel in the shared present. One guy even got up on someone’s shoulders. I couldn’t see but I wanted to imagine this big hairy beast of a man had been so hopped up on stoke that he climbed on his lady’s back to flash his tits.
Things were getting inverted, in just the right way. I may have waxed poetic about other performers this year but this is without a doubt one of the top 3, maybe top 2, shows I’ve seen this year. They wrap the set with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” that segues into “Purple Yellow Red and Blue,” their paean to hedonistic epicureanism. When they come back out for the encore, the “bro factor” is amped up to eleven. Gourley keeps screaming “If you love Portugal. The Man say FUCK YEAH!” But all these fuck yeah moments are for the right reasons. It’s intimate.
Gourley, takes a breath and explains how unreal it is for him to be in space as legendary as the Troubadour and to be in a city he knows as deeply as Los Angeles, singing to a crowd where “I know half the people in the front two rows by name.” Kinda cool when a band from out of town can still treat a show in your city like a homecoming. The encore ends with “Modern Jesus” and it’s perfect. The questioning of authority, the celebration of individuality and independence, the embrace of iconoclasm as a life affirming ritual. It’s … it’s just… fuck yeah.