When Portugal. The Man last came through town -- just about a year ago -- its Crescent Ballroom concert was the first after a lengthy break. The band had been touring almost nonstop for a year, so the idea was that some time off would renew the vigor they needed to perform almost nightly. That night, the band offered up a dynamic performance that -- while a creative mix of Portugal. The Man's deep catalog -- was at times sluggish and disjointed, as if they were just finding their feet again.
That was not the case at the Marquee, one of two Arizona shows between Coachella weekends. For this gig, the band was in top form, opening with a long jam before slipping into the title track of their new album arriving in seven weeks, Evil Friends.
Read More: Preview Portugal. The Man's forthcoming album Evil Friends, track by track.
Though the video for the driving, gritty song has been out for a couple of weeks, it was clear the audience wasn't entirely sure what they were going to get. But they were more than ready when "Evil Friends" segued seamlessly into "So American" from In the Mountain in the Clouds. In fact, almost everything -- literally -- blended together with amazing forethought. "So American" smoothly transitioned into "People Say," which in turn became "Everything You See," concluding with a horn build-up and breakdown straight into "Say It Ain't So."
This was a new side of the band, one honed over endless hours on the road supporting In the Mountain, through careful planning in the rehearsal space and during sound checks. The chemistry was, well, unreal. Everyone was in perfect sync as the drums crashed (the guy hits the skins like Pearl Jam/Soundgarden's Matt Cameron), the organ swirled, bass thundered and fuzzed, guitars got gritty and dark, harmonies soared, and John Gourley's voice carried through it all. The earlier refrain from "So American" kept coming to mind as each song crashed into the next: "There's madness in us all." In this case, it was a wonderful musical madness that everyone -- on stage and off -- benefited from.
What made it even more dynamic was the way the surprising coherence of P.TM's body of work, from album to album. Every record seems to take a new direction, but underlying themes and ideas make the leap between each one; tracks from Censored Colors merged with In the Mountain cuts; even new material, like "Sea of Air" and "Purple Yellow Red and Blue," fit nicely with The Satanic Satanist tracks.
With the musical interplay pulsing on so many levels, the band didn't need to acknowledge the crowd, lest the spell be broken. Gourley, dressed in ball cap and oversize raincoat and in the shadows most of the night, said nary a word beyond "thanks." No worries; the mostly college-aged audience really just wanted to sweat it out to the music.
A few tracks got minor tweaking as well when compared with the studio versions. "Got It All" became a heavier, darker number with a slower ending, while "All Your Light (Times Like These)" got downright sludgy, and "Sleep Forever" became a monster psychedelic jam. Out from some of these song-ending jams and shifts emerged homages to the Beatles -- four times, in fact, P.TM made the seamless transition, with "All Your Light" becoming "She's So Heavy," and the brooding "Sleep Forever" enjoying the "Na Na Na" chorus of "Hey Jude." There were even a few bars of "Don't Let Me Down."
Though the first set was only an hour long, it felt much longer; the music never stopped and the flashing orb lights hanging above the stage almost constantly flickered, creating a slightly hypnotic effect. In an encore, the band added another 25 raging, high-intensity minutes, concluding with the final Beatles number of the evening, a scorching version of "Helter Skelter," full of driving dance beats and psychedelic guitars.
Last Night: Portugal. The Man
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Personal Bias: Was aware of the band from living in Alaska and could relate to the larger themes of nature and the challenges of living in the last frontier. Plus, the musical amalgamation of styles is unlike any other band.
Overheard: "Those lights on stage look like your mother's pearls." "You should know. You stole them from her."
Audience: Heavy college scene mostly with a scattering of other demographics.
Random Notebook Dump: "This drummer must have a jazz background, because he doesn't seem to be following the song, but it works."