“I blew my voice out the other day; I have no idea how we are going to pull this off tonight and tomorrow” Portugal. The Man singer John Baldwin Gourley told me over drinks Wednesday evening before he and his band took to their instruments prior to a private show at the Lomography gallery in the West Village. I kept reassuring John that he will do a great job and had nothing to worry about. After a brief conversation, he retreated to join his band mates and get ready, organize a set list and warm up to perform for the lucky fans and VIPs at the intimate event. As I waited for the band, I kept thinking about their last CMJ unplugged appearance at Apple Store in SoHo in 2009. The buzz around this band had just hit fever pitch and while CMJ 2009 seemed to be rather quiet in terms of artists, two bands broke out that year – England’s The xx and America’s very own Portugal. The Man. Now two years later, the band has released two more records since then – last year’s best album, American Ghetto and this years brilliant In the Mountain. In the Cloud, which also see’s the band making their major label debut on Atlantic Records. Now back for CMJ, the band are the centerpiece of the blitzkrieg festival and received top billing on the list of artists performing, for the art band from Portland, originally from Wasilla, Alaska it has to be a proud feeling.
Portugal. The Man is a band that never stops, in fact, when they are not on their blistering tour schedule they are in the studio recording. They are true music artists that are still yearning to perfect their craft, so Wednesday at the small gallery unplugged show, they wanted to create a relaxed atmosphere and still give fans a reason to rejoice. In a half-hour set that included the songs “So American,” “1989,” “Do You,” and a handful of others, it was an interesting venue and atmosphere to see and hear the band. Especially in comparison to what the five-piece would pull off the next night headlining Terminal 5. Hit with a few technical difficulties, the fans did not seem to mind as this is was such a unique experience, at this point in the band’s career who knows when something like this will happen again.
After Wednesday’s one-of-a-kind incident, Portugal. The Man took to the massive Terminal 5 as headliners and was ready to make it a special occasion. As soon as you walked into the venue Thursday, you were immediately hit with the notion that “tonight is going to be special,” as you looked on the stage there were massive bulbs strung together that looked like candy that wrapped around the band’s gear and stage. There was also a heavy feeling in the air that the fans were ready to unleash. At 10pm sharp, smoke began to blow from dry-ice machines and the stage was hardly visible, blocking the band’s special lighting and hiding the band, but as the smoke blew over they emerged as the opening chords to “So American” were played. As the smoke cleared you could see the five members of the band were backed by a cellist and violinist to enhance their sound and something they had back in the early days of this band’s career. In a marathon setlist that included everything from “AKA M80 The Wolf,” “Elephants,” “Mornings,” “Got it All,” they blended each song into one another and refused to stop. It was as if the band was grabbing the audience by the throat and refusing to let go and slamming them with one great song after another. The highlights would not just come from their brilliant musicianship, it came in the form of two covers – covering The Beatles “Helter Skelter” and then during the encore creating a massive sing-a-long to their brilliant Oasis cover of “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” Not much can unite the Gallagher brothers these days, but if they heard this cover, I believe they would smile as wide and joyous as I was.
In a 24 song set that lasted nearly two hours, Portugal. The Man proved once and for all they are not just one of the best bands in America on the road these days, they also proved they are ready, even at their young age, to hit the echelon of touring bands like Pearl Jam, Phish, Grateful Dead where you can see this band every night of the week and every night it will be a totally different experience. Trust me, after just seeing them myself four times alone this year, each show has gotten better and better, each gig has gotten longer and longer and each experience has trying to locate my head – for it has been blow off my body.