I don’t throw that title out there lightly. I imagine that if I write this blog for the next 50 years, I will never type that title again. Portishead at WaMu theater tonight was the best live “rock” show I’ve ever seen. Period. End of Story. I’ve seen a lot of shows…A LOT. I feel like I’ve seen just about everything live. This was special.
Portishead just reached out and grabbed me ever since the early 90s when I first heard “Dummy”, their debut album. It was the heady days of trip hop and their sound at the time didn’t necessarily sound unique, it was right there in the neighborhood of Massive Attack or Tricky. Part of a movement. But something set them apart, they stripped the sound down to its essential best. Not to mention that they had a vocalist in Beth Gibbons who is clearly from another planet. Her voice is gut wrenchingly good, sweet and cutting at the same time. More on Beth later…
Enough to say that I was very much looking forward to seeing Portishead live. I’ve wanted to see them since I first heard them. I had a chance to see them at the NYC show at the Hammerstein Ballroom that become a live album and DVD set. I blew the opportunity to get my dumb ass down to NYC to see that show. I wouldn’t know how rare that opportunity to see them would be. I bought the record and the DVD and tortured myself each time I saw or heard how amazing that show was.
It took Portishead 14 years to get back on the road. They are known for being private and uneager to tour. I can see why, they leave so much of themselves on stage that there is no way they could leave that much behind on a regular basis.
Portishead makes intimate music, best served on headphones or played very, very loud. They turned a large room at WaMu Theater packed with thousands of people into an intimate experience. They seemingly did it with ease. The show started very stark, they did not come out with a big gesture. They made you pay attention. The room was silent, I’ve never heard a rock crowd go that quiet. Portishead is a dark band for sure, but was this going to be at least a little fun?
Then, strategically placed throughout the show from about the 3rd track on, they sprinkled in the BIG songs, the ones that moved through you and affected everyone in the room in some way. People were EXCITED. They sounded so good and so loud and so in control. There was amazing scenery behind the band at all times, stark and vibrant, the video absolutely complimented the show and was a necessary part of the experience. Even with that, all the show needed to blow me back, to practically buckle my knees was the sound they melted together effortlessly.
Beth Gibbons vocals are perfection – frail and strong at the same time – always powerful enough to carry themselves through the varied assault the other band members would put upon it. Her voice gives me the chills. The vocals must be very personal to her, she expresses them from her soul to the atmosphere without any interference. It’s no wonder she doesn’t like to do that often, she’s completely giving of herself.
There were so many special moments, great psychedelic moments with visuals and sound melding into a multi-media feast.
A completely stripped down “Wandering Star” when Adrian Utley and Beth performed for themselves while at the same time tore our hearts out with their gift of strength to each other. Then, almost like an intruder in this bit of theater, Geoff Barrow comes in with his guitar and adds a layer that is just thick enough to get us all through the song, but not so much to distract from the moment.
Beth Gibbons coming down from the stage on the last song to shake the hands of people at the front like she was the president. People were giving so much appreciation and love to someone who so gracefully echoes their feelings. People LOVE her. It was great to see her enjoy it for a bit, the rest of the time she’s up there she seems pained by the power she has.
So many amazing moments. I could go on and on, but it wouldn’t do the show any justice. You know it was a good show when you feel the need to play the band on the way home. I wanted to try to take with me just a small sliver what had happened by playing their live album….LOUD. But it as amazing as that record is, it was not enough, it has to be experienced, hopefully we don’t have to wait another 14 years…