All words: Lauren Bulbin + Farrah Skeiky
All photos: Farrah Skeiky
I didn’t know who Portugal. The Man was until March 2010 when a friend dragged me to see them perform at the 930 club. I was reluctant to go after reading reviews online that described them as “experimental” and “psychedelic.” To my surprise, it took about five minutes for me to be hooked on them. Their mash of progressive pop rock and rebellious lyrics had me fascinated. This band from Portland had stolen my heart, so when I heard they were playing Rams Head Live; I jumped at the chance to see them.
The night started out with the official DJ for Jägermeister warming up the crowd with remixes of songs by MGMT, Passion Pit and the legendary Michael Jackson. While the DJ got everyone dancing a representative from a local radio station took the stage to let the audience know about a local band competition that was held to find an opening act for The Lonely Forest and Portugal. The Man. The winner was a local Annapolis band called The Dirty Names. When The Dirty Names hit the stage you might have thought you had just stepped into a 1970s time warp. But as they started playing I realized they had all the characteristics of the great bands of the 70s as well as some of the characteristics of current bands like US Royalty and The Kooks. They were excellent and clearly well deserving of the spot they won.
Up next was The Lonely Forest, who reminded me of a band I saw back in September called The Hold Steady, with a dash of Joy Formidable and Death Cab for Cutie and lyrics similar to Portugal. The Man. The group was full of guys who could really play their instruments.
After The Lonely Forest left the stage, the DJ came back on stage to give the crowd one last dance break before all hell broke loose during Portugal. The Man.
Finally, the house lights dimmed to pure black, with an eerie glow from the back bar. Figures resembling band members scurried onto the stage. Fog billowed out from behind the keyboard and drums, while spheres of blue and pink light popped up in the background. Portugal. The Man burst the lid off a container of anticipation. The audience erupted in screams and cheers.
The band played a number of fan favorites and songs from their most recently released album. The set list included All Your Light, So American, M80, The Sun, Got it All, People Say, Chicago and a pretty fantastic cover of Helter Skelter. I was overjoyed to hear them play Chicago, as were many of their longtime fans.
In addition to playing an amazing show, Portugal. The Man brought a killer light show with them that was innovative and timed perfectly to their music. It was a Technicolor day dream that beckoned a multi-sensory experience.
All in all it was a great show, and a great night, well worth the trek to Baltimore!
This was my third time seeing Portugal. The Man. The first time was two years ago at 9:30 Club. I had a terrible flu, but I was absolutely blown away by a presence that alternated between blissful and jarring, and I didn’t know they would become one of my favorite bands until their cover of “Moonage Daydream” yanked my sickly self out of the bathroom. The second time was this past October, again at 9:30 Club, where they first introduced this gorgeous stage set-up full of glowing orbs. and once again, P.TM proved that they simply did not have the capacity to disappoint me. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait until the next album release to swoon and sway at the mercy of the same songs, and even better, the glowing orbs were back!
I was ecstatic just walking into Ram’s Head (who would have thought!) and I didn’t think anything could put a damper on my mood (not even the obnoxious Jager girls). The Dirty Names were first up and after thirty seconds, it was obvious they were on this tour because of their classic rock influence. After thirty-five seconds, it was clear that they really, really, wished they had been a band in 1974, because it wasn’t just an influence, it was their entire personality. That isn’t to say that The Dirty Names aren’t a good band, because they are. They had a mastery of their instruments that demonstrated true dedication to a genre, and incredible energy. The problem is, they didn’t seem to know what to do with this energy, and as a result, they acted like a cover band. Windmills and moves like Jagger and all. A few fans from Baltimore School of Rock were quickly naming influences of each song. If the band were to combine their influences and energy into a more unique personality, they’d hit a home run.
The Lonely Forest are up next and I’m immediately intrigued by the frontman’s Joy Formidable t-shirt, and as Lauren said, the influence is definitely there. I had never heard their music, just good things about them, and even found a few fans that bought tickets mainly to see their opening set. It was astounding what a hold The Lonely Forest had over such a fairly immature crowd who had probably never heard of them. They were honestly captivating, and what they may have lacked in stage presence, they made up for with lyrics as sweet and vague as any Portugal. The Man song. If their goal was to intrigue an audience that night, they most certainly did.
Finally it was time to put those glowing orbs to use, and as silhouettes of band members became barely discernible, we were greeted by “All Your Light (Times Like these)” (the stunning/terrifying new video was released just yesterday). P.TM doesn’t waste too much time introducing songs or explaining them, and that’s just fine with most of the crowd. Frontman John Gourley is off to the left with much less illumination than bassist Zachary Carothers, who resides front and center and seems to be the most excited out of the group. Between the last tour and now, keyboardist Ryan Neighbors left the band, and the new keyboard player was phenomenal, fitting the personality of the band almost effortlessly, but clearly felt more at home with older songs like “Chicago.” It’s also very clear to the crowd which songs are old and which songs are new, as Portugal. The Man has evolved tremendously from their first few albums, which had them quickly labelled as progressive and experimental. After chatting with Zach about their growth as songwriters and then hearing these songs live, it makes perfect sense and the juxtaposition does them wonders.