Portugal. The Man really, really likes Denver -- at least as much as the Portland-by-way-of-Alaska act appreciates band names with unwarranted punctuation and song titles with extra parentheses, it seems. "I know a lot of bands come out and say that every night, but we really love it here," bassist Zach Carothers insisted. "We have more friends in Denver than anywhere else in the world -- except maybe home." And by the way, "Is the naked hippie here? That shit was crazy."
Unfortunately, the nude man who patrolled the outfit's last stop at the Bluebird couldn't make it this time, though his absence might have gone unnoticed amid the Ogden's packed and writhing house. The past month has not been an easy one for Portugal. The Man, and this showed in the band's obvious relief and grin-spotted enjoyment of a show frought considerably more with emotion than hitches. Last month, the group lost two members when longtime keyboardist Ryan Neighbors left to pursue a side project and and their touring drummer was reported to have quit in the middle of a gig.
The gaps are today filled by the wildly competent Kyle O'Quin and Kane Ritchotte (both relegated to the back of the stage), but the loss struck a blow for a group that produces one album every year and tours ceaselessly to support it. Most recently, that album is In the Mountain, In the Cloud, Portugal's year-old tour de force, from which seven of the night's songs were adapted.
Onstage, the band explores the instrumentation and the pacing of their songs to prevent complacency in both the musicians and their fans. While the experimental group ventured far from its studio selves onstage last night, the broken-down, drawn-out and increasingly expansive versions of its life on record betrayed clean atmospherics that exploited not their length or effects but their lowest (and best) common denominator: Their relationship to the listener. Opener "All Your Light (Times Like These)," for example, was stretched slightly closer to oblivion as singer John Gourley strung his tinny falsetto across an extended melody.
Covered in strands of glowing globe lights that branched out to the rafters, the stage's color code matched the mood of its music. When, only two minutes into its set, the guys indulged in their first guitar-fueled freak-out, those spheres seized -- er, shined -- green. When they broke from the frenzy, they turned blue. In tune with their focus on musical candor, the setlist ebbed and flowed in fervor as the guys judged what level of intensity to partner with the crowd's. The decision stems first from Ritchotte, who leads the five through each song's tread and length while the others augment its scope and hint, with solos and instrumental cues, at where it should turn into another.
But while most of the band's songs are creatively rearranged in the live setting, occasionally one, "My Mind," with a newly prolonged outro, just sounds deranged. Live, every song lasts just about as long as it can without hitting a cold, practiced trajectory, and that one lasted about a minute longer. Grounded in Carothers' explosive bass lines and injected with Gourley's whimsical vocals and spiraling guitar, the results are frequently carried away in outro atmospherica, returning to their original premise only as the next song begins.
The mood this creates evidently proved too much for one fan, who later crawled onto the stage during crowd favorite "AKA M80 The Wolf" and made it past both security and her cheetah print outer shirt before a guard halted her clumsy grooving. Her punishment was mild: She had only to return to the floor to continue the same dance moves as the rest of the crowd. Loaded with nostalgia, the wildly amorphic "And I" closed out the set proper before the band photographed the crowd, marked the occasion and stepped away for the encore.
The band saved the best self-reflection for last. Tucked into a breathless final round, Gourley's shifting cry promised the audience "everyone was saved" ("Do You") and then "nobody will love you" ("Everyone is Golden") over and over, transforming devastating prose into an open invitation for rebirth while building new rhythm upon renewed rhythm upon intro upon solo upon outro upon conclusion. But before the band slowed its pace, it complimented Denver a couple more times. "One thing I don't say every night is that I love coming here," Gourley professed. "If I don't, I just say fuck it and don't say anything." He paused. "I love coming here."
Earlier in the night, Washington natives the Lonely Forest opened the show with self-deprecating lyrics layered over self-indulgent etherea. The act built drama through a fast but efficient set of songs about band life -- touring and leaving town -- leaving an overwrought crowd eager for follow-up when the foursome called its Band of Horses-esque introduction to an end.
Page down for Critic's Notebook and Setlist.
Personal Bias: I've seen the band several times, but all in venues smaller than the Bluebird -- and never plastered in Jagermeister posters. (They are currently on the Jager Tour, complete with the appearance of four scantily clad Jagerettes.) I'm happy for their move to Atlantic Records, but I have the major label blues.
By the Way: In our interview with bassist Zach Carothers, he told us that Portugal's unpredictability is the result of no practicing -- at all, basically. That knowledge makes sets like this one that much more impressive.
Random Detail: John Gourley was not wearing socks. The humble, vital singer of Portland-based rockers Portugal. The Man does not need them apparently. Unnecessary excess of any kind -- including socks, it would appear -- does not fit into the band's live equation.
Portugal. The Man Ogden Theatre - 5/2/12 Denver, CO
01. "All Your Light (Times Like These)" 02. "The Woods" 03. "So American" 04. "Work All Day" 05. "The Devil"/"Helter Skelter" (Beatles cover) 06. "AKA M80 The Wolf" 07. "Shade" 08. "Floating (Time Isn't Working My Side)" 09. "The Sun" 10. "Senseless" 11. "Chicago"/"Ain't No Sunshine When" (Bill Withers cover) 12. "Got It All" 13. "Head Is a Flame (Cool With It)" 14. "My Mind" 15. "People Say" 16. "Bellies Are Full" 17. "And I"
18. "Do You" 19. "Everyone Is Golden" 20. "Sleep Forever"/"Hey Jude" (Beatles cover)
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