Portugal The Man Bring The Psych-Groove, Cover Oasis & Pink Floyd at StubHub’s SXSW Kickoff
That old saying about actions and words came to mind last night at Portugal The Man’s performance at Clive bar, as part of StubHub’s SXSW kickoff showcase. With barely any crowd interaction (frontman John Gourley looked at the audience exactly twice the entire set), the Portland-based rockers sucked us into a psychedelic stew of sonic performance art, a refined execution of lightly-fanged hypnotic rock.
We eagerly provided the fang destination, so to speak, after warm-up treatments from sex panther Charles Bradley and Future Islands. While people crammed onto the neighboring balconies at Container across the street made short order of a capacity workaround, Portugal leaned into a set heavy on gems from their most recent album Evil Friends.
The dangerous moments of song expansion, tempo shifts and leaps into the instrumental unknown can move a band from memorable to unforgettable. As Awolnation frontman Aaron Bruno explained in our recent interview, “You have an opportunity to introduce something new, something you can only get at a live show. So what’s the point of going to a show if you’re only hearing the CD?”
It’s clear the two acts are building on a similar philosophy, as PTM strayed into deep waters of alteration through a number of songs. They would speed up the tempo or abruptly cut it in half mid-song, seamlessly switching to another entirely without warning. Just as you’re wondering if it’s the Texas weed or if this is the best version of “People Say” you’ve ever heard, they’re suddenly playing a dead-ringer cover of Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger”.
When the intense pivot near the end of “All Your Light” kicks in, the measure of reflected passion in the crowd is like connecting a circuit, snapping from a stony, hypnotic lull into a full-on dance party. The transcendent singalong of “Modern Jesus” was topped only by the perfect trippiness of entry-point killer “Atomic Man,” the ending of which made for the sweetest singalong all night.
“I’m the moon that pulls the tides that take the sand…”
Acrobatically musical cocksmen can handle all distraction, and the boys patiently played through a stage-crashing cat who delivered shots mid-song. Hell, they even threw in a nod to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” for good measure.
Bassist Zachary Carothers is the de facto communicator onstage, smiling through minimal banter and clearly enjoying every moment of the experience. Gourley looked up at the audience exactly twice throughout the entire show, first a tentative glance and then a full moment of shitgrinning happiness as he took in the enraptured temporary Austinites leaning into every note.
Out of time but on a roll, PTM blazed through a buoyant “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” before disappearing into the night.
And THAT is how you properly kill a first day at SXSW 2015. Onward!
Photos & video: Johnny Firecloud