New York City was invaded with residents of Wasilla, Alaska last week. As Donald Trump ate pizza with a fork with the Palin's in Times Square, the real treasure of Wasilla, Portugal. The Man, invaded the Lower East Side (and probably ate real pizza too) and wowed a sold-out audience Friday night at the legendary Webster Hall. The Alaskan band, which is now based in Portland, Oregon, or in a tour bus, really, due to their constant tour schedule, returned to New York, where they last sold out the 500 capacity Highline Ballroom in March 2010, after over a year. Performing to their biggest headline crowd to date, Portugal. The Man displayed and proved that they are the most interesting, creative, organic and original band in America right now. As they ready the release of their sixth album and Atlantic Records debut, In the Mountain, In the Cloud next month, they have been touring (as they normally do) to generate a buzz for the forthcoming record.
Before they arrived on stage, it was apparent that this was going to be a full-on multimedia experience rather than a concert. A backdrop of psychedelic images that represented the artwork to In the Mountain, In the Cloud covered the back wall, while a projector screen was erected to display a short film which featured new music from the band and was clearly shot in their native Alaska. While the ten-minute short film, created by the band, of a man hunting in Alaska and accidentally taking his own life, played, smoke filled the stage and the band walked on to a thunderous applause and began cranking away to a bewildered yet excited audience. With a thunderous jam that drove them right into "Guns and Dogs," "Do You," and "Dead Dog," Portugal. The Man were displaying something so strong and so powerful it was as if they were taking the audience to another planet and showing them something new.
The band can be classified as psychedelic and/or prog rock but they are so much more than that; they are students of great music, as singer John Baldwin Gourley told me in a 2009 interview he is influenced by "The Beatles, Wu-Tang Clan and Oasis." They are a band that does not sound like anyone around; you can say they are reminiscent of Radiohead or the Flaming Lips but they then alter that theory immediately. They take sounds and bend them, they take their own songs and change them, they take what you know about them and throw it out the window and rewrite their songs and book live on stage. You can see Portugal. The Man 100 nights in a row, with the same setlist each night, and it will be 100 different concerts. This is the band America needs to put great American music back on the map.
Accompanied by a brilliant light show to go in accordance with the feast for the eyes they were already giving the audience, they hardly spoke or took a break and just kept on performing. In many ways it is a microcosm to what the band has become, a non-stop touring and working outfit; they have released an album a year since 2006 and each record keeps outdoing the other. After nearly ninety minutes on stage, they said goodbye with smiles on their faces and their heads held high. It is rare that I am at a loss for words at the end of a concert, but my jaw is still on the ground. This is a band that needs to be seen in order to gain the full experience.
There is a reason why they are now signed to the great and legendary Atlantic Records. The label's late, forward-thinking founder Ahmet Ertegün wanted new artists that rewrote the rules to conventional music. I firmly believe Ahmet is smiling down on his staff for signing this band and seeing his legacy live on in the music and shows of Portugal. The Man.
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