It is a rare day that we get to knock items off of our bucket list, but I did just that when I saw the incomparable Portishead in concert on October 18 at the Shrine Expo Center in Los Angeles, Calif., presented by KCRW.
I remember the very first time I ever heard a Portishead song. I was in a clothing store as a teenager and I heard the lyric “Nobody loves me…” from “Sour Times.” Due to my ever-present melancholy and angst at that time in my life, I was immediately mesmerized. Unfortunately, no one at the store knew who the song was by and I spent years trying to find that gorgeously haunting tune. When I finally did find their first album, “Dummy,” in college I felt like I had just found my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Getting to see Portishead play live all these years later was the fulfillment of a long-time dream.
Portishead released two influential albums in the ‘90s (“Dummy” and “Portishead”), but then disappeared from the spotlight for years. The band was always press-shy, which added to their mysterious allure, but their absence from the music scene was especially frustrating, because music as unique and emotive as theirs doesn’t come by often enough. It wasn’t until 2008 that fans were finally rewarded with another album, “Third.”
The great thing about the show at the Shrine Expo Center was that it was a nice blend of all three albums. Their music has such a specific, dark sound that it flows effortlessly from one song to the next. Portishead doesn’t create singles; they create a feeling. They opened with two songs from their third album (“Silence” and then “Nylon Smile”), but then slipped into “Mysterons” from their first album, which set the tone for going back-and-forth between old classics and newer tunes.
I reveled in getting to hear them play so many songs of theirs that I love from “Over” to “Roads” to “Magic Doors,” but there were also some moments in particular that stood out from the rest. When it came time for “Wandering Star,” they played a stripped-down version with bare, quiet musical accompaniment to Beth Gibbons’ vocals. This subdued version of the song brought out the sorrow behind the lyrics even more. Also, during my favorite song from their third album (“The Rip”), a trippy and surreal cartoon played in the background depicting people floating over vast landscapes, uncomfortably overcrowded city streets and other abstract images that are too complex to describe. It was also great to hear “Glory Box” live. “Glory Box” is their sexiest song, and you could feel the heat turn up in the room between all the couples holding tight (it gave me a chance to squeeze my beautiful wife tighter, too). Then, of course, they played the song that started it all for me, “Sour Times,” and crazy enough I didn’t even recognize it at first, because they played a jazzier version. What a landmark moment for me to hear them play that song live.
Portishead makes such wonderfully moody music that you can escape into it, get lost in it. Their music has an excitingly alluring vibe to it; you instantly feel like you’re living in some vampy film noir. If you’re lucky enough to have Portishead come to your area, I highly recommend checking out a show. It will transfix you and send you into just the right mood, and who doesn’t like to be seduced by music every once in a while?
You can find ticket info here: http://www.portishead.co.uk/.
- By Christopher Locke