Portugal. The Man | 09.23 | California

Word by: Justin Gillett

Portugal. The Man :: 09.23.09 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA

Portugal. The Man by Emily Ibarra
When a low profile band with an underground following tries to break into the mainstream and record an album of easy to access tunes, it can often create a division between dedicated fans and the band. People who have been watching the act slowly mature since its inception often feel a type of ownership and get pissed off when a band ditches their experimental roots, instead opting for pop song structures and hooky riffs.

After listening to The Satanic Satanist (released July 21 on Equal Vision Records), the latest album from Portugal. The Man, one could assume that this is a band that has largely turned its back on its original sound and devoted fans. The songs off the recent LP are shorter and arranged in ways that beg for the admiration of new listeners who are unfamiliar with the sound that has been so characteristic of Portugal. The Man. It's not that these new songs aren't good – a few are amongst the group's best – but after spending time with The Satanic Satanist listeners familiar with the band's sound definitely get the impression that this is a band that's striving to reinvent itself and grab hold of a larger base.

As Portugal. The Man turned a new chapter with its recent release, many followers of the Portland, Oregon-based foursome have no doubt thought that the band's recent pop sensibilities wouldn't translate to the stage. But, as evidenced by the group's recent show at The Independent in San Francisco, Portugal. The Man has remained a bastion of modern indie rock while performing, often taking its short songs and stretching them into massive jams that capitalize off the band member's individual talents.

The evening's opening slot was filled by harmony laden pop outfit Drug Rug, whose recent LP Paint The Fence Invisible (JamBase review) has gone on to receive critical praise for its throwback '60s musical composition. The unique brand of blues-based pop that the band played varied between sleepy grooves and fast paced numbers that brought the crowd to attention. While Drug Rug displayed a knack for musical diversity, the vocals of the band were a slight disappointment. Sarah Cronin's singing was borderline annoying and it severely detracted from the music's appeal.

Portugal. The Man by Emily Ibarra
When Portugal. The Man steeped onstage and went into its first few songs, one couldn't help but notice how focused each member was as they contributed their own distinct style to the sound. Lead singer/guitar player John Baldwin Gourley's Gretsch hollow body provided characteristic twang while Ryan Neighbors' organ laden keys added to the group's unique appeal. While it's hard to pigeonhole the band's sound, by blending elements of blues, folk and experimental rock, Portugal. The Man has cultivated a distinct voice. During this performance, the band proved its live show is starkly different from the material it has recently laid down in the studio. As the band jammed out its first few songs, it almost seemed like the music carried an air of psychedelic nostalgia, although when Gourley belted into the microphone and added his characteristic vocals a more modern sound was created that helped propel the band forward.

As Portugal. The Man played on, a sharp buzzing sound permeated throughout the speakers. While a roadie quickly sprung into action to alleviate the obtrusive noise, the band played on like pros, and when it stopped it was clear they were able to concentrate harder and take the songs deeper. While the majority of Portugal. The Man's recent material hovers around three-minutes, the band stretched many tunes into jams that often surpassed the seven minute mark. Sometimes tracks that started off as soft and pop-centric morphed into heavy grooves that gave the quartet an opportunity to experiment with their instruments.

Before playing one song, Gourley openly admitted that the band's recent album was neatly packaged and especially accessible. The song the band went into next did start off quite pop friendly, but changed pace several times as it progressed and capitalized off the band's historical tendency towards prog rock.

Now that Portugal. The Man has released four LPs and just as many EPs, one would imagine that the band would have stopped trying to reinvent itself. But with Satanist the band has discovered ways to entice new listeners with concentrated songs that won't frighten unseasoned fans. The band translates well in front of a crowd and Gourley's impressive vocal range has been honed for performing live. If a band feels the need to experiment with its sound so be it. Portugal. The Man's recent performance shows they haven't abandoned years of work spent perfecting a unique live show in favor of simple songs well tailored for fresh ears.

Portugal. The Man is on tour now; dates available here.

JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 10/6/09]

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