Music News

Escape from Alaska

While it's become standard practice for bands to slog through the same old set list night after night, Portugal. The Man has come up with a novel approach to providing audiences with a unique experience each and every time it takes the stage. Nowadays, coming up with a new song sequence for every appearance is considered heroic because we don't see it very often, but Portugal. The Man goes one step further: the self-described "prog-punk/avant-indie" outfit invites musicians from whatever bands it's on tour with to participate in and actually become part of its show. Previous tourmates who've taken Portugal. The Man up on its offer have included Circa Survive, The Fall Of Troy, and Tera Melos.

"It's been more of a community thing," explains frontman, guitarist, and visual artist John Baldwin Gourney. "It's just so much more fun to not be playing against each other. It's really cool when everybody gets together and says, 'Fuck it, let's just play.' We've been saying, 'If you want to come up and play in the set, you can.' And that's worked out really well."

For this outing, PTM appears in an expanded six-piece format in order to better reproduce the instrumental layering of the material on its just-released album, Church Mouth (Fearless Records). The extra personnel is provided by Shepherds Of Ontario from Portland, Oregon. Speaking to New Times from rehearsals with the Shepherds in Portland — which also happens to be PTM's unofficial second home when it's not actually home in Anchorage, Alaska — Gourley explains that Portugal. The Man began as his effort to find the middle ground between the Beatles and Wu Tang Clan. Gourley had started coming up with rudimentary, electronic beat-based music with his new project in mind when he was asked to fly down to Portland to join Anatomy Of A Ghost, which included his close friend Zachary Carothers, also from the Anchorage area.

When Anatomy Of A Ghost disintegrated because of creative differences, Gourley shifted his focus to Portugal. The Man and brought Carothers, whom he describes as "the guy I started doing music because of and started doing music with" along for the ride. These days, PTM blends ambitious post-hardcore with heavy flavorings of indie and classic rock. Though rather obviously influenced by the Mars Volta, PTM steers that band's energy away from extended avant-garde freakouts and toward orchestration more typical of '70s rock albums, and relying on subtle texture and discreet complexity rather than technical chest-baring and bombast. "We've gotten into doing the free-time beats live," Gourley says. "In place of a drum machine, we have a guy doing that stuff."

According to Gourley, Alaska's cultural and musical isolation actually contributed to Portugal. The Man's sense of creative freedom. "Growing up in Alaska," he says, "the music you would play is like five or 10 years old by the time you play it." Gourley describes a musical climate dominated by hip-hop, dated cover bands, and watered-down, unoriginal pop-punk. Though he likes the rap he heard growing up, which included Run-D.M.C., N.W.A., and Wu Tang, the pervasiveness of gangsta rap culture did have its stifling effects.

"It's really strange," he laughs, "to see how a lot of our friends are back home. They have guns, they dress that way, and everything. It's really sheltered, and they don't have an understanding that that's just music. There's such a lack of understanding of what the outside world is really like. But it's not much different — in any way — from Random Town in Wisconsin, you know? After traveling around the country, I've gathered that most small towns feel like where we grew up. The mainstream culture is what people live off."

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Saby Reyes-Kulkarni