Words by: Chris Clark
Portishead :: 10.21.11 :: Greek Theatre :: Berkeley, CA
There are some acts that come through town that become absolutely imperative to catch live. Maybe they’re not your favorite group ever, but the sheer fact of being at their concert, knowing that you experienced them in the flesh and will be able to hold that encounter for the foreseeable future makes those couple hours precious moments in your musical memory.
|Portishead by Joe Russo|
Portishead delivered one of the most fascinating and exhilarating live performances I’d had the opportunity to witness in some time. Granted, a sold out show at Berkeley’s famed Greek Theatre on a perfect evening laid a glorious foundation for what would become a celebration of emotional despair and isolation where the Bristol-based outfit delved deeply into their repertoire for an evening to be remembered. I was quite curious as to how the group’s first tour of the States in over a decade would pan out. Would their tracks be as tightly woven in the live setting as they showcase in the studio? Would Beth Gibbons’ hauntingly gorgeous voice be as emotionally capturing live? Going in, I clearly had some questions, leaving, well, they were all answered.
Performing on a stage boasting a barrage of electronic gadgetry, including laptops, turntables, an abundance of effects pedals, keys, synthesizers and electronic drums mixed with guitars and a couple percussion stations, Portishead opened with a tasteful duo of “Silence” and “Monsters.” Having not seen the band live before, I was unaware that they offered a decadent multimedia experience that titillated the senses. Their mysterious beckoning through songs of despair, alienation and emotion fully grasped an overeager crowd from the opening notes of “Silence.” Throughout the band’s 13 song set, a completely enraptured audience exploded into raucous cheers at the commencement and conclusion of each song with utter silence and ultra-attentive awareness in between.
Highlights abounded, including the group’s run through “The Rip,” “Sour Times” and “Magic Doors,” which offered flawless renditions of Portishead classics. Geoff Barrow’s evocative synthesizers coupled with the group’s impressive dual percussion backbone provided Gibbons plenty of room to let her vocal prowess capture the Greek, whose audience hung on every word that left her mouth. It was really quite an awe inspiring sight watching the throngs sing-along and sway to the “nobody loves me” chorus in “Sour Times.” Even more amazing was how Gibbons’ vocal delivery and dexterity sound as unforgettably beautiful as they did in the studio in 1994.
|Portishead by Joe Russo|
Concluding their set with the classic “Threads” provided a gradual build up of emotion via screaming guitars and bombastic percussion that enjoyed an almost microcosmic appeal that was the set’s accumulation of emotional angst. In conjunction with the band’s decidedly dark delivery, a visual show provided an unnerving backdrop of moody isolation with earthquake footage coupled with beaming lasers.
To end the night, the “Roads” and “We Carry On” encore seemed to be an appropriate and tasteful conclusion to a picturesque but eerie night of melancholic music at the Greek. While not the typical live concert experience, seeing Portishead in such a beautiful space proved to be one of the superior nights of live music I’d witnessed in some time. Judging from the reaction of the crowd, I’m confident my sentiments were felt by most in attendance.
Silence, Hunter, Nylon Smile, Mysterons, The Rip, Sour Times, Magic Doors, Wandering Star [stripped down version], Machine Gun, Over, Glory Box, Chase the Tear, Cowboys, Threads. (Encore): Roads, We Carry On
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