Portugal, The Man – Live at Variety Playhouse

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Obscure band, right?  With my son in tow, we arrived at the ticket office to find out that the show was sold out… “but they may release some tickets later.  You might want to go eat or something and try then.”  Within 5 minutes, 10 tickets were “released,” and we were in.  Really?  Sold out?  I’m hip and don’t even know it.

A thoughtful consideration is that with ticket prices at $15 in advance, the band smartly plays to a generation that craves quality live music but often finds it unaffordable.  Kudos.

The opening act, Alberta Cross, took the stage promptly at 8:30.  Beginning with a pounding beat by their drummer, the band quickly stepped into a continuing rock frenzy through their set.   Lead singer Petter Stakee has a high pitched voice similar to Neil Young, enhanced by My Morning Jacket type reverb effects.

A quick rerun of their videos reveals a bit different band from what I heard, much less amplified.  That said, I liked them both ways, and they’ll remain a band of interest, especially with a new CD arriving next year.

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After moving their kit off the stage, PTM’s stage was seen a little more clearly, with a somewhat whimsical look.  My son guessed correctly that the balls were internally lit, and, from a lighting standpoint, the show was different in that the stage remained very dim, as Variety’s house lights (which are ordinarily superb) were used sparingly in favor of a floor based system.

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The break also allowed the opportunity for the many who had not yet shown up to work their way to the seats and the standing area in front of the stage.  It was nice, for once, to clearly be on the elder side of the audience average age.  Most appeared to be in college or mid-20’s, with many couples.  Once again, how did they hear of this band?  Sure, PTM played at the Bonnaroo Music Festival twice… but whatever type of music PTM plays, I hadn’t really considered it to be “bring a date” music.  So, I’m not so hip after all.

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PTM is categorized sometimes as psychedelic rock.  I didn’t find that to be true, but they had a mix of progressive rock flavored keyboards, Beatles pop hooks, and indie flavor (interpreted: I don’t know). 

PTM took the stage and played with rarely a pause between songs in their hour and 45 minute or so set.  Disappointingly, this was also a rare occasion in that the opening act’s audio was superior to headliner.  What can you do?

An early surprise was the band’s take on The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” which was a rocking affair accompanied by a small blast of dry ice.

Wrong.

That actually would be the smoke from possibly illicit consumables from those standing in front of the stage.  And elsewhere.  In fact, towards the close of the show, they would reveal their hands with actual lighters, as opposed to the digital renditions on smart phones preferred by my age group.  Still, the band threw the old folks a bone with a cover of Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes” a short bit later.port3

The band played with energy, especially bassist Zachary Carothers, who appeared to love both the music and his profession.  It’s unusual for a bassist, even one who sings backup vocals, to have a fronting stage presence over a guitarist, but it was deserved. 

Keyboards and drums were always tasteful and, at times, very enjoyable, but the band’s role is basically to support lead singer/guitarist John Baldwin Gourley.  Gourley has a very high pitched voice, I believe altered at times through electronic effects.  It’s a bit tiring to me on record, but in concert sounded very good.  As an aside, Gourley should consider buying a guitar that doesn’t need tuning between every song, or even during a song, though it never interrupted the flow of his vocals or segues to the next songs.

PTM played a generous portion of their latest CD, In the Mountain in the Cloud, which were already crowd favorites as evidenced by many who sang along.  Overall, it was a departure for me as most shows I favor are guitar showcases of some type.  Though there is a lot going on instrumentally, this was more of an ensemble approach.  Still, a concert/quality time with my son or stay at home?  It was a very enjoyable evening that obviously pleased their many fans.

Photo of the crowd taken by drummer Jason Sechrist at the end of main set:

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