By Artis Gaye
Photos by Scott Bernstein
Last night, headlining The NYC Freaks Ball (Night 1) at Brooklyn Bowl, the six-piece rock act, called Portugal. The Man, enveloped the stage in their own punctuation-challenged but aesthetically gifted way. And the first thing one is struck by: man, that’s a nice guitar. What can I say? John Gorley swings a pretty fiddle and knows how to use it.
Producing six records in as many years, Portugal. The Man is fairly prolific by modern standards, which has afforded them a significant catalog for a young(ish) band. This also gives the intrigued neophyte quite a bit to explore, which is good for business.
Much of the intricacies of their deliberately crafted studio tracks are lost in live performance, which seems to be made up of fragments of shiny ‘90s production over a cacophony of late ‘70s stadium rock sensibility. Their presence and their sound fully fill a big room like that of Brooklyn Bowl, but the rampant falsetto, often extraneous hand percussion, and occasional slips into white-boy reggae can grow tiresome. However, the crowd does not thin and at least half the room seems to be swooning; they love these guys.
Portugal. The Man was clearly reared on Classic Rock Radio and they fear neither power chords nor rhythmic and melodic redundancy, giving an undeniable density to their collective sound. But the simultaneous vocals that feel so populistic on their records come off as muddled live, more busyness than sonic weight. Nonetheless Portugal. The Man seems to mean what they’re saying and sincerity goes a long way.
Demographically they should be all set, and their trajectory certainly seems pointed toward next level stardom. They’ve got the extra guitar for the dudes and upper register vocals for the ladies – which sounds a bit like the offspring of a twisted three-way between Geddy Lee, Janis Joplin, and Jon Anderson. While Portugal. The Man has some impressive things going on in regards to songwriting, live performance, and breadth of aesthetic, it’s clear that most of their swooning fans will have to look up all three of those references.
As the first track on their most recent album, In the Mountain in the Cloud, refrains, [this stuff is] so American, in a good way. Send me a postcard from the top, gentlemen.
Guitarist John Gourley
Bass Player Zachary Carothers
Ryan Neighbors on keyboards
Percussion with Jason Sechrist on drums