Words by: Chadbyrne R. Dickens | Images by: Lauren Ensler
Portugal. The Man :: 04.20.12 :: Music Hall of Williamsburg :: Brooklyn, NY
I heard the whispers amongst friends for weeks. No one likes to be the last to hear about the party, so some even like to pretend to know something they know nothing about. With a strong inclination to learn more firsthand, I eagerly strolled into the Music Hall Of Williamsburg to witness the experience that is Portugal. The Man. The sidewalk had filled up quickly with overtly enthusiastic patrons, loyal to a band that not too long ago toured as the opening act for The Black Keys but was now fully prepared to engage in another sold out show all of their own.
|Portugal. The Man by Lauren Ensler|
The lengthy wait was slightly frustrating for the band to finally own center stage at 11:00 pm. The opening act, The Lonely Forest, energized the crowd proper with a pounding cacophony of guitars led by the strong vocals and stage presence of frontman John Van Deusen. When Portugal. The Man surged onto the stage, the crowd greeting them like a familiar lover, ready to reciprocate with energy and applause, knowing in their bones the band was eager to please. John Gourley (vocals), Zachary Carothers (bass), Kyle O’Quin (keyboards) and Noah Gersh (guitar) were lost amidst a sea of interconnected large white bulbs reminiscent of a DNA double helix thread across, up and around the entire stage, with multiple, different color schemes flashing about and creating reflections of band members and casting shadows and silhouettes reminiscent of a 1930s German expressionist film. One easily slid into a seemingly private world of sound and thunder only accentuated by this surreal stage design.
When attempting to assimilate into a new band’s scene, one can often learn a lot from the veteran or more enthusiastic members of the fan base. A professional living in New York named Melissa possessed such strong affinity for the band she had just the day before travelled four hours down to Baltimore to catch a gig, only to just as eagerly return the following night to do it again near home. A crowd of younger fans stormed me after learning I was writing a review and strongly directed me, “You must write a positive review for PTM! They are INSANE!” Luckily for me, no one’s superlatives or guidance were required to become cognizant that this band is special. I was surprised at the heaviness of their sound – an exhausting, throttling, and in your face pounding of heavy guitar riffs on almost every track while melding background harmonies infectiously invaded my auditory senses. The music raged so contagiously hard throughout I was consistently thrown around a bit and constantly pushed while situated in the front row touching the stage as a low-key mosh pit formed near me with one brazen fan diving into the crowd from the stage.
|Portugal. The Man by Lauren Ensler|
A minimal number of patrons departed the dance floor for a drink or a bathroom run as the band carried on solid for one and half hours. The third song, “So American,” was the one that initially most involved the crowd, and the catchy, repetitive chorus was the reason why. Another song with instant appeal was apparent when a fan insistently inquired of a dancing stranger, “What is this called?!?” The dancer responded in matter of fact understanding, “Got it All,” which is the newly released single. A fan of any genre of music would have trouble not liking this cut. After the sexy single “The Woods,” the group mixed in a trippy anthem version of “Helter Skelter” and also shared a solid alternate take of “Hey Jude” as adulation poured in from the packed house.
This group of talented men from Alaska and Oregon has already released six albums since their self-titled debut in 2006. I would not want to be the one tasked to pigeonhole their unique style or delivery into any genre. Portgual. The Man, if anything, throws everything into the mix, including the proverbial kitchen sink in case you need to wash up post-afterglow. Recently, they have achieved monumental gains in popular success. They polished their skills in front of large crowds at Bonarroo the past two summers and at last year’s Lollapalooza, where someone infamously stole all their gear from the tour van. An intelligent band with a very specific vision, PTM succeeds in exploring a distinctive sound and a place within the current music scene that is rare and thus refreshing and appealing to a listener. Similar to the fresh air pumped into a stale market place by grunge in the early 90s, PTM manages to keep the audience off guard with heavy licks, contagious choruses, and a surprise mix of genres and styles continuously alternated.
|Portugal. The Man’s Gourley|
By Lauren Ensler
The co-founders of the band, Gourley and Carothers, take their stage persona to the next level. Gourley innately makes an impression the moment a note leaves his mouth. Projecting from a quite high vocal register, his range instantly recalls an edgier Adam Levine, Stephen Jenkins when singing falsetto, Ray LaMontagne if he got kicked in the crotch, or even a bit Sebastian Bach. The flawless, high-pitched delivery is effortless, clear, beautiful and pleasurable – like a rage-ier, tripped-out Barry Gibb. Meanwhile, Carothers brings exuberance to his performance that is pleasantly contagious with constant jumping, and moving and frenetic playing that mirrors how much he loves what he does. His expressive body language and take charge entertainer persona were a far cry from the laid-back, unassuming man I interviewed prior to the festivities this night.
Carothers, a skilled bassist influenced by Claypool/Flea/Commerford, is a cordial, low-key man who spent much time speaking in vivid detail about a variety of topics including his love for music. After we separated, I was most impressed with his modesty, how thankful he was for the upswing in his career, and how he remained steadfast in continuing to work hard creating music others can enjoy. He still beamed when recanting the band’s first national TV appearance on Conan as if it happened the night before. Generally, men claim they can’t discern when other men are good looking, but I soon learned from many females enthusiastically whooping at this show that he is a bit of a heartthrob. A group of young girls explained that he possesses that cute boy-next-door –with-an-edge quality that women in the scene are attracted to a la Marco Benevento.
|Portugal. The Man’s Carouthers|
By Lauren Ensler
Carothers said he was eager to record their next album, one he said would be “different from the all the others. Who wants to make the same album twice?” But, due to the extensive touring, it may not get going until the winter. When I suggested that leaving the indie world behind and signing with Atlantic Records often translates into a band losing control and thus hindering the creative juices, Carothers happily claimed, “No, not at all. They let us do basically whatever we want. They are great.” How many times does one hear that from an artist? In fact, the day before I spoke with another artist who had been on Atlantic in the 90s who claimed to have left because the label was asking him to make more commercially viable records – different times, different strokes. There had been some mystery over the sudden exit of the touring drummer a week prior, requiring PTM to carry on acoustically without a percussion section, but Carothers explained how he departed due to exhaustion, and on this night, with a full complement of players, they didn’t miss a beat.
Strangely, as I walked out of an intense night, I felt that urge to walk back in and do it all again. Alternatively, I returned home and settled for a night of PTM YouTube frenzy. Satiated and exhausted, I was satisfied that I could now legitimately claim to know what Portugal. The Man was about. The boisterous crowd had wailed in unison just an hour earlier, “There’s madness in us all,” and for an hour and a half inside a Brooklyn music hall, the madness in us all was fully unleashed and unfettered, leaving us feeling all the better for it.
All Your Light, The Woods, So American, Work All Day, Devil>Helter Skelter, M80, Shade, Floating, The Sun, Colors, Chicago, Got It All, Do You, Golden, Head Is a Flame, My Mind, People Say, Bellies, Sleep Forever Encore: And I
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