Portugal. The Man never did shy away from risk, and Friday night at the Fillmore was no exception. After almost two hours of opening bands, the crowd was impatient, but that didn’t stop PTM from beginning their show with a twenty minute video of stunning Alaskan scenery (the band’s hometown) that ended with frontman John Gourley being devoured by his own sled dogs. Not exactly an optimistic way to connect with your audience. But the video accomplished its goal, showing the contradictions between staggering beauty and unthinkable pain, setting the mood for the rest of the band’s well-performed set.
The band remained shrouded in shadows and ever-moving lights for the majority of the night. The audience was lucky to catch a glimpse of any of their faces; I saw Gourley smile just once. Yet the powerful music penetrated the wall between band and audience, allowing the pain and anguish to wash over the crowd in ribcage-vibrating bass lines and soulful guitar solos that simultaneously expressed beauty and pain. The audience sang along to catchier hits from The Satanist like Do You and Guns and Dogs, remaining subdued while absorbing and appreciating every musical moment of the show.
The twisted psychedelic set background and smoky laser lights added to the mysterious mood introduced by the film, complimenting the band’s deeply powerful sound. It was obvious that the band had played together through many years and an impressive collection of albums. They operated as a single, fluid unit, revolving around Gourley, whose piercing falsetto floated over a shifting instrumental landscape.
Highlights of the show included People Say, one of the band’s more positive rallies, and Mornings, which showcased Gourney’s mournful guitar solos and striking lyrics. Towards the end of the set, the band built up a complex wall of sound containing sirens, bells, and bongos layered over the band’s tight groove.
Gourney’s most intimate moment came during the encore, a beautifully crafted version of And I. Stepping to the very front of the stage for the first time, he allowed his distinctive falsetto to reverberate above sparse organ, bass, and drums without any guitar accompaniment. The song then built up to epic proportions, ending the show with a dramatic flare of laser lights and smoke.
Portugal. The Man proved that a band can do it all: be experimentally artistic yet infectiously catchy, boldly flashy yet charmingly modest. I anticipate their upcoming album release, In the Mountain In The Cloud, coming this July.
Check out a review of their previous album, American Ghetto, here.