Portugal. The Man Live Is Musical Genius Worth The Sacrifice Review Of Portugal. The Man's Intimate Gig At The Troubadour For Hilton Honors
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LOS ANGELES, CA-
PREAMBLE: What’s a litmus test for how much you really like a band? Perhaps it’s the lengths you’ll go to get from Point A to Point B in order to see that band play a show.
The night of Portugal.The Man at the Troubadour, I found myself sitting at a gas station in Lomita staring at my car and wondering why the fucking fuck it would not start. It’s 6 pm. Portugal.The Man goes on at 9 pm. It’ll be an hour before AAA can even show up to give me a tow to a garage in …Torrance. And if you’re not familiar with greater Los Angeles geography, Lomita? Torrance? Not close to the Troubadour. At least a $50 uber on a Friday night at rush hour. And then what? Just ditch my car in a semi-random parking? Would it even be there in the morning? If I couldn’t get my car to start, I suppose a thief wouldn’t either. I was torn.
With time to burn, I walked across the street to a cozy little sushi joint on PCH to slam a beer eat a piece of fish while I stared out the window waiting for the tow. Nota bene: don’t ever underestimate the quality of Japanese food in the Lomita. It’s choice. Finish my last sip of beer as the waiter brought my check and my phone rang with a call from the tow truck. Celestial clockwork. All the pieces were coming together. Hopefully, PTM would lag getting on stage…!
Got a tow to Torrance which also got me close enough to a friend’s house where I could borrow a car and promptly make a beeline up the 405. Drove like a bat out of hell …or maybe a middle-aged bat out of hell, urgent but prudent. “Just a creep in a t-shirt, jeans, I don’t fucking care…” Pulled up to the Troubadour at 9:15 pm, over an hour late. Glory be to Hilton Honors who not only hosted this show and provided an open bar but also kicked down for free valet at the Troub! After all the bullshit with my car and the tow, it was almost cinematic to have my car door opened, hand off the keys, and step straight to the will-call booth under the marquis. Scripted to show up on cue. And just 10 minutes after the band had stepped on stage.
I walked in as the set was in its early moments of crescendo. Not a tour stop. Not widely announced show since you had to get tix through Hilton Honors. Not a lot of pomp and circumstance. The focus was fully on delivery. I’d say they were only playing their best songs but I like all their songs so it’s hard for me to tell. That said, if you were to go by Spotify plays, I don’t think they strayed outside their top 10 or 20. The crowd was genteel but amped. Sometimes insider shows have shitty crowds because people are more stoked about gramming humble boasts of their insider status than jamming on the band. Not the case. The Troub was shoulder to shoulder from stage to back bar with people who seemed genuinely stoked to see P.tM.
The setup on stage was pretty dope. Spare. I’ve seen P.tM at the Troubadour while on tour with more production and pageantry. This night was bare bones. And yet somehow, getting stripped down made the experience and the space feel a little more intimate. It’s not like they went acoustic or anything like that. It just felt more like the way they’d play in their own backyard or living room or recording studio.
And that touches on the brilliance of the band. Their recorded material is impeccably produced and they back it up live with faithful renditions that show the recording process to be no fluke of post-production smoke and mirrors. But live, they are definitely a little grittier. The analog shines through in the beauty of their rough edges. Like a book that has those uneven torn cuts along the edge of the page. Makes each page imperfect, different, but also kinda fancy.
And then there’s the glory of a live performance solo. Some bands can’t help but be shamelessly masturbatory when they solo. Unbridled self-indulgence. Sometimes rad. Sometimes annoying. But P.tM.? How do I put this? It’s like neuticals. If you’re not a dog owner, neuticals are prosthetic testicles that your veterinarian can put in your dog’s scrote after getting clipped so that it looks like he’s still a virile hound. Aesthetically beautiful but ersatz. That’s kinda like Portugal.The Man recorded. Now live…live? That’s the real fleshy nut. That’s the good stuff, the bona fides that’ll impregnate anything in heat within a 10-mile radius. Solos that don’t change the song but let you know what it was really supposed to sound like. Just beautiful.
Lest this trend any more chauvinistic than it already is, I think it’s important to note that there’s something about the live performance that brings the one woman in the band into focus. In the recorded versions, you can always sense Zoe Manville in the mix. But live, you really feel not just the quality but the necessity of her voice in the composition. Even in moments when she drifts to the back of the stage, she somehow remains a nucleus of power. Or maybe not a nucleus. It’s like Voltron. If you don’t have all five lions to make the Super Robot, it just doesn’t work.
Song after song, anthems for this age. Evil Friends was released almost 7 years ago but it’s timeless. It’s more relevant today than it was then. Because fiction has become reality at the extremes of it’s most farcical incarnations. And it was an album in witness and in anticipation of that phenomenon. Of all the songs they played, “Modern Jesus” always gives me rawest shivers. Especially in the current political climate. Especially after I’d made my own hadj from the terminus of the 110 to Doug Weston’s temple of sound off the 405. The song is pinpointing the intersection where the celebration of self meets the critique of bullshit. So much bullshit. So many hypocrites. Evangelicals preaching conversion therapy while getting gay blowies in airport bathroom stalls. Politicians selling their soul for 30 pieces of silver and not even trying to hide it. Good times in 2019.
But this wasn’t supposed to be a preachy political review. More a musing on canine testicles as a metaphor for musical genius. Because the darkness and irony and irreverence in their music is always tempered or balanced by a sense of joy and celebration. Of what, I can’t always be totally sure. But if I were the suburban Jewish version of a crazy rich asian, I’d have these guys play my wedding. With Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma hoisting me in the air during the hora (because Bob Hope is dead and Keanu Reeves is too busy being a ninja). I don’t know. You never know. Made it to a show I thought for sure I’d miss. Stranger things happen in LA.
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