The Gig: Portishead at
When: 7 and 9 October 2011
Where: Quai Jaques-Cartier, Montréal, QC and Sound Academy, Toronto, Ontario
In One Word: Obliterating
It’s a four-day weekend, the weather seems to think it’s summer again and prodigal Bristolians Portishead have returned to Montreal after nearly a decade’s hiatus from touring North America – it’s a good life, this. Filling in the opening slot for Friday’s show was Thought Forms, a British three-piece sliding through matured psychedelic grunge with lyrics stretched indiscernibly long across the sound, like taffy in the sun. Think if Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo and Godspeed You! Black Emperor had a band camp, TF would win the talent show competition night hands down. Signed to Geoff Barrow’s label Invada Records, they’re beautifully soaring and then gritty and raucous, a tumbled-down wall of sound tracing some mystical plane. They only played a handful of songs, but impressed nonetheless.
If their studio work is arresting, as a live act Portishead are unaffectedly breathtaking. The distinctive sound with which they’ve carved their niche – theremin-tinged sci-fi soundtracks, scratched and guitar-etched spy operas – are set alight with shaky and fractured video feeds of the band members in stark chiaroscuro, interspersed with duo-toned vertigo tunnels and even a cartoon sequence that brings back more than a few memories of NFB shorts on Saturday mornings. Beth Gibbons’ voice is a thing of fractured beauty, growing steadily throughout the night but shadowed by the ever-present gloom of the lyrics, while Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley make the band’s evolution over two decades look effortless. Beth Gibbon’s performance digs deep into pained vulnerability, emoting on “Silence,” – the opening track of Third and first song of the night – like a widow reflecting on a lifetime of loss, her voice shaky and haunted at first but then maturing throughout the set. The setlist was almost an even selection from both Dummy and 2008‘s Third – the latter of which this is the first North American tour for – with “Over” and “Cowboys” being the only tracks from their self-titled second album.
The first set ended with “Threads”, the yelled crescendo and meltdown alarm ringing off to be met with an understated rendition of “Roads” for the encore, with just Gibbons and then Barrow on bass at first, then percussion slowly worked in. It’s an almost ‘unplugged’ sedateness in contrast to the cacophonous end of “We Carry On” ringing into the night as the final song. Gibbons’ end of the night dive into the photo pit to greet fans and her later thanks-and-goodbye are and sweet, almost bubbly, and in contrast to the unrelenting lyrical melancholy of the night, like a brief glimpse of the sun after being shrouded in fog. Symbiotically brilliant and enigmatic, Portishead were well worth the wait – but I still hope it’s not another decade before we see them back.
© Liz Keith, Music Vice
What more can I say? Liz sums it up perfectly. Toronto would have been a repeat of Montreal, except for the drawbacks of this venue and the fact you need to be inside the ‘magic square‘ to hear and see everything properly. Portishead, drenched in dark blue lights and spread out across the sparse stage created a very melancholy visual to match their music. Many fans enjoyed the music while clinging to themselves or their lovers. The moment where Bethany Gibbons embraced the crowd at the barrier during the end of their encore brought warmth and closure to the evening, after the oblique experience that came before it. Song of the night for me was “Mysterons”, if only for nostalgia sakes as I grew up watching Captain Scarlet re-runs.
Special mention again to Thought Forms. This band were different. Got no lyrics? Make whale music. It was definitely more of a jam vibe than watching a typical set of a rock band. Thought Forms create some big noise inside their bubble and it’s interesting to watch. A girl I spoke to at the barrier summed it up by saying, “It’s like they’re practicing together in their bedroom and we’re watching them.”
© Brian Banks, Music Vice
Photo gallery – Portishead at Sound Academy, Toronto: