Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Portishead, October 19 at the Shrine Expo Hall

I can’t honestly say I was a huge Portishead fan when they were big back in the ‘90s.  I had both of their albums, almost out of obligation, and since everyone around me, it seemed, adored them, but I just never made a deep connection with their music, even after listening to those albums hundreds of times.  I liked them enough and there were a few songs, mostly off their first, that I liked but that was generally as far as I went.  I even mostly skipped their set at Coachella '08, and knew that I didn’t have to invest in them so much since they had such a infrequent presence in the first place.  Predictably, everyone went crazy over Third and I got it, again mostly out of obligation, but I found that very quickly, to my surprise, I really dug it.  It took them a ridiculous amount of time after the album release to do a full tour but at least that gave me the chance to reevaluate my taste for them and to fall madly for their newest album.  I suppose what everyone else liked about them -- that morose, faux-goth strain of a sound -- was what made them difficult them for me, even though I certainly like that kind of music elsewhere, and while I was ambivalent about their music before, their new stuff was a lot more forward and less melancholy, and that suited me well.  I was making connections between Third and Radiohead’s In Rainbows, and it's clear to see that those two bands have had a lot of crossed paths, musically and historically if nothing else (more to the point that Radiohead shared their drummer on tour and I heard that they covered “The Rip” live); Beth singing with Radiohead as the band and the Portishead guys on production could be mind-blowing, though we would happily settle for a Beth/Thom duet.  Portishead played the Shrine Expo Hall, which is a non-traditional location: there's an auditorium there that has the occasional concert but the expo hall is where I've been for monthly comics conventions.  But it seemed the right size and I think they still sold out the two nights there (Carla and I getting lucky with tickets for the second night).  The show was as expected, a lot of it pre-programmed, with Beth shunning the spotlight but adding the only real spontaneity.  The music was all familiar, and it’s all surely meant to be heard alone, in a dark, cold room, curled in a fetal position, but there was something about hearing it there, in a dark, cold room, but surrounded by people that brought a warmth and excitement to it.  The band presented their music, meant to be enjoyed in an individual, very personal way, to a crowd of individuals and it worked with the crowd, though it really helped that the often-robotic mechanics of the newest album, almost bordering on new-school industrial (and maybe it is, in this day and age), could carry it.  The older stuff might be too depressing to sustain for an hour and a half but mixed in with the clamor of the new tracks, it went well.  The crowd wasn’t even as old as I would have expected, which goes to show that the band is still picking up fans even after going away for something like a dozen years.  And for the first time, I really wish they would come back soon with new music.  Now that they’re again exploring new territory with their music, it could be exciting to see where they go, as well as what they do in concert with it.  And I'll be there, as much a fan as those around me.

Portishead’s set-list:

"The Rip"
"Sour Times"
"Magic Doors"
"Wandering Star"
"Machine Gun"
"Glory Box"
"Chase the Tear"

"We Carry On"