all words: Zeke Leeds, all photos: Sarah Guan
In the 21st century can you be a rock band? Not rock-pop, punk-pop, acid rock, art rock, indie, lo-fi, alternative, or any other offshoot of that infectious music genre which was borne out of a potent mixture of American’s most wondrous creative achievements: jazz, blues, and country. It’s honestly not likely since even those original inventors are now classified as classic rock. But if any band exists which might serve as a counterpoint to this argument—that could make a case that they’re nothing more or less than a rock band—it’d be Portugal. The Man.
On a beautiful September evening at Merriweather, Portugal. The Man was bound to melt faces with tasty licks and tap into the rambunctious spirit of rock past and present. Not afraid to jam out, but also capable of playing a straightforward in-your-face rocker, Portugal. The Man daringly opened their set with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”—as if to make their claim on rock history.
The rest of the set was a display of pure rock virtuosity. With lead guitarist and vocalist John Gourley’s embroidered white hollow body Gretsch serving as the prefect emblem of their sound, shimmering, playful yet meaning serious business.
Portugal. The Man spotted their set with covers that delighted the audience: from a very unexpected rendition of the main theme from Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s hilarious musical, “Day Man,” the band also did justice to Oasis modern rock classic, “Don’t Look Back in Anger”. They demonstrated exactly what a rock show should be, liberating.
Which was why the band made such a great compliment to Grouplove: a band whose music is packed with the all the electricity of a summer thunderstorm. Coming out the gate with “I’m with You,” the sprawling opening track off the band’s latest album, Spreading Rumour. It was clear that Grouplove set out to have a good time. They also had some surprise covers up their sleeve doing an inspired take on Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love.” Indeed, the band had plenty of love for DC. Enjoying the massive scope of a packed house under Merriweather’s pavilion roof, the band fondly reminisced of past shows they’d preformed at the 930 Club and the Black Cat. With drummer Ryan Rabin even coming out from behind his kit to join in on the nostalgia: “We played both stages, both top and bottom floors.”
And, in my humble estimation, Grouplove’s love was something genuine. Their energy output was insane. Frontman Christian Zucconi was visibly sweat-drenched from the start of the third song, and all the while Hannah Hooper hopped merrily around the stage in a jumpsuit made out of the pattern of hundred dollar bills. The woman never stopped moving. The cheerful character of the band’s sound was propelled by the splendid weather casting the evening into a slaphappy state-of-mind.
Portugal. The Man joined Grouplove on stage for the encore. Sticking to the theme of the night, we got another solid cover of a rock standard. “We’re gonna play one of the best rock songs ever written” Zucconi announced to the crowd just before the opening synth line from “Baba O’Riley” started up, an excellent closing statement, which once again reinforced why both bands will have a place within rock history.