Every now and then you see a show and it is just perfect. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the best show you’ve ever seen but just the right band, doing the right thing, in the right way. Shows like that are hard to come by in shitty venues like the PNE Forum so I must admit I had my concerns ahead of last night’s Portishead show in Vancouver. An old arena/shed, the Forum isn’t known for being the best venue sound-wise but, somehow, Portishead overcame it. And sounded perfect.
I was not a huge Portishead fan in 1994. I think I was just a bit too young and a bit too into Pearl Jam and Nirvana to really grasp what Portishead were doing with Sour Times. A few years later when their second album was released I was firmly entrenched in my Britpop obsession and while All Mine intrigued me, I never really pursued the band. A couple years later I finally got around to Dummy and didn’t really look back. All of that is just a long way of saying I hadn’t been waiting the better part of two decades to see Portishead like many in attendance last night. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t pretty thrilled when Beth Gibbons, Geoff Barrow, and Adrian Utley (plus newbie Radiohead drummer Clive Deamer and a couple other musicians) took to the stage awash in Third‘s frigid-blue lights.
And from the opening drum crashes of Silence, Portishead were perfect. Beth Gibbons’ voice was incredible all night. Cowboys and Over were delivered in that distinctive (and vaguely creepy) manner Gibbons employed on the sophomore record and at other times it was at its most delicate. And everyone else was spot on as well: Barrow adding percussion and scratching throughout the evening while Utley exuded the presence of a man who could outplay most guitarists around but instead utilizes his instrument to bring the atmosphere or menace to Portishead’s live show.
The set drew heavily from 2008′s best record, Third including that album’s finest moments in The Rip and set closer We Carry On. Elsewhere the band went way back and pulled pretty heavily from Dummy and it was these songs that the very polite (and very stoned) crowd responded to most enthusiastically: Mysterons, Sour Times, Roads, and perhaps two of the show’s finest moments in Glory Box and the show-stopping amazingness that was Wandering Star.
The latter was performed just as a trio, with Barrow playing bass while seated next to Gibbons who, also seated, sang while being shrouded in her hair. Utley added some haunting guitar and the crowd was practically silent, transfixed in what was one of the more memorable live moments I’ve ever witnessed.
When you add in the band’s most recent single (the krautrock excellence of Chase The Tear, Portishead’s show really was perfect. The lights and visuals were effective and always added to the mood while the band themselves really seemed to enjoy themselves on stage (they were all smiles at the end of the set). There was literally nothing else I could have asked for. Not bad for a band I never thought I’d ever see live
Chase The Tear
We Carry On