One of the more interesting yet oft-overlooked aspects of a festival like SXSW is the frequency in which some acts play, sometimes multiple times in a short time span. Thanks to this fact this author had the privilege of seeing Portugal. The Man three times in a 24-hour period. Some might argue that this was needless overkill, but in this way one is able to pay attention to nuances and figure out what really makes a band tick. Fortunately this opportunity only reinforced my belief that this up and coming band were no longer just musicians playing their songs, but artists in control of their craft.
The first opportunity to see them came at Sam’s Burger Joint in San Antonio. This place is a gem of a small venue and great place to see a band like Portugal. The Man. It has the vibe of an over-sized garage but with much more charm…and a bar. This was a headlining show and they treated it as such, laying a solid foundation with the psychedelic noodlings and tease of “How The Leopard Got Its Spots” and a few lyrics from “Guns and Dogs” with an ever-intensifying sound swirling around the room, finally launching into “Guns and Dogs” formally, playing it loose but much like the melodic anthem it is on record.
There was hardly any dead air between songs, instead they chose to bridge the gap between songs by playing great instrumental jams that kept the atmosphere going. This is a way in which their concerts are unique and truly an experience: a concert-goer is fully submerged into a wall of sound consisting of swirling and churning atmospherics that don’t let up until their final notes fade.
Most of the material played was from arguably their finest record yet, ‘The Satanic Satanist’, with a few songs from other albums peppered between. Amongst this they were able to incorporate two brand new tracks that easily fit alongside the rest of their cannon, yet were unique in the way they combined big guitar sounds and great soloing with the undeniably catchy sing-along nature of their ‘Satanic Satanist’ material. The crowd was wildly enthusiastic about all of the songs, which was pleasantly surprising for a city without a major college radio influence. After a beautiful version of “And I” that caused some to sway back and forth with lighters, they called it a night.
The next day was a set that was filmed for IFC’s Crossroads House. It was a small studio room meant mostly just for filming and was completely packed. The band came on and hardly said a word, immediately submerging us into a shortened version of the jam that began last night’s show. This was a signal to what the plan of attack was for this particular performance—keep the atmospherics of their full live set, but whittle the set down to only the most cutting tracks. It was a short set, only about 30 – 40 minutes, but it was a very powerful one that ended with an incredibly poignant version of “AKA M80 The Wolf” that had most people in the audience singing along and either clapping or stomping their foot during the breakdown. One cannot be sure how the show will come across to people when it eventually airs on IFC, but the audience witnessing the taping was definitely mesmerized by this band’s ability to capture the energy and excitement of a full concert in such a short amount of time.
Several hours later they played a private event for Do512, playing their “Do512 Lounge”, which was filmed so as to be shown on their website at a later date. This author had the extreme fortune of attending this performance by responding to Portugal. The Man’s tweet pertaining to extra spots on their guest list. Whether it was because of the free drinks is uncertain, but it was a very relaxed atmosphere, the band standing around outside, chatting with people at the event and just generally hanging out. This translated really well into their final performance that evening, playing a cramped, AC-deprived room even smaller than that of the IFC taping. Instead of building atmospherics and giving the full experience, they chose to instead just let the songs speak for themselves, playing most of the songs played earlier in day, but there was a casualness to it. Ryan added extra fun keyboard fills that sweetened the sound more than on previous performances, and instead of hunching over his bass like a wizard conjuring a booming storm, Zach looked up and around, bobbing his head, smiling. They were just having fun, and it showed.
After the show, while chatting with some of the band members a little, it was learned that their new album comes out August 9. Other than that, it was just a casual conversation with a couple of great guys. Lead singer John Gourley was very candid and gracious, and eventually excused himself to take a call from his mother, whom he informed me was doing a deep sea diving rescue and he was worried about her.
Three completely different situations and concerts in 24 hours. All three excellent in their own way. It seems like only yesterday (in reality three years ago) they were at SXSW for the first time, playing all over town promoting their second album, ‘Church Mouth’. What one saw then was a band just in love with making music and having fun playing songs to a large group of people. Several world tours and signing to a major label haven’t changed Portugal. The Man’s obvious love of playing music. But what time has shown is that a band, still so early in its career, can go through evolution and stand before an audience confident in the soundscape they create each time they perform. They are truly an exciting and vibrant band and one can’t help but feel like the day when everybody knows just how stunning they are is coming soon.
Written by Jarad Matula