For the last show of its tour, Portishead put on one of the finest performances anyone is likely to see this year or any year. The band's energy, urgency and intensity kept building and building until the end when the instrumentation seemed to collide with one another in a way that made you think Portishead had ripped a hole through space and time. There was something that felt so intimate about this show that it pretty much made you forget you were in a large venue with thousands of other people.
If there was a song you really wanted to hear, chances are Portishead played it, and as it was being performed, you noticed things you may have missed in the studio version, things that were more fully realized in the live setting, like the flute sound during "Sour Times," which seemed to be filled with a vibrancy and clarity absent from the recorded version.
During "Wandering Star," you couldn't help but be struck by Beth Gibbons's voice and her ability to convey a fragile emotional intensity that always gets under the skin. Throughout the show, the video backdrop of shifting imagery included shots of the band playing, often with Gibbons' face wracked with the strength of feeling in her delivery.
Adrian Utley's yearning guitar work at the beginning of "Over" was even more brooding and foreboding than it is even on the live recordings from over a decade ago. When Geoff Barrow and the other players came in with the heavy percussion and noisy flourishes, it all hit with an incredibly moving impact that got more than a few people cheering from all over the crowd.
The guitar solo in the middle of "Glory Box," a song many of us heard so often in the mid '90s, was played so sensuously and with such a burning passion, it was even a little startling. "Magic Doors" sounded inexplicably like an incredibly sultry Devo song with its mixture of sounds. "Cowboys" was as mind-bending as ever with the dense layer of raw sound and drone flickering and crumbling around us to the tune of Gibbons' sound of determined yet desperate voice over the turntable trickery and signature glitchy sounds.
After concluding the main part of its set, Portishead came back out for an encore that included "Roads" and "We Carry On," a song that proved to be the high point of the evening, with its rapidly flickering pulse of a synth tone over syncopated swells and fractured guitar work under Beth Gibbons' chilling quaver.
Throughout the evening, Portishead did a masterful job of shrinking the room emotionally; even if you were far from the stage, you could fully feel the music in your body, and it was dialed in well enough that every annunciation and nuance of Gibbons's voice to carried throughout the room, haunting and thrilling everyone within earshot. The band could feel the room's reaction and said as much, remarking how the beautiful the audience was on this last show of the North American tour.
Personal Bias: Portishead is one of my favorite bands of all time. Random Detail: Ran into Jeremy Ziehe of Bad Luck City and Ethan McCarthy of Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire at the show. By the Way: This venue may be tucked back along the highway somewhere and the area might remind one a bit of Belmar, but the parking situation actually seems to be well managed.
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