There’s something kind of offensive about having to witness the comeback of a cherished band whose sound is so emotional and all about the intricacies, inside the city’s worst venue – a glorified metal barn with airport-style security and six portapotties. But Bristol musical pioneers Portishead amazingly rose above its location at the PNE Forum on October 24, and rendered a Vancouver crowd wrapt and breathless.
Every past ache and strain, every quiver, every broken heart and moment of anguish seemed to have been somehow recaptured and remembered. Gibbons spent little time talking, and sometimes had her back to the audience, hands fast at her side. The band – Adrian Utley on guitars/keys, Geoff Barrow doing programming and second percussion, plus a drummer, guitarist and keyboardist - hid in front of generous, lush projections on a massive screen. And though she’d apparently stagedived (!) at other shows, tonight was controlled.
From the opening of “Silence” through to the big-cheer-songs (“Sour Times” “Mysterons” and the wonderful “Glory Box” – with its own distortion freakout towards the end), via “Over” (the wicked scratching by Barrow reminding people of how the band earned itself the “hop” side of the “trip hop” name), past the stuttering “Machine Gun” and its hypnotic gunfire backbeat, and into the dark new wave ambient of “Chase the Tear”, it was obvious that Portishead was going to own our asses tonight.
Alongside the really, really good moments, there were perfect ones too. “The Rip” (from claustrophobic album Third) started – as it does – wavering and insecure, a lone guitar next to Beth singing of her fantasy of white horses taking her away, then built slowly into a kind of spellbinding Kraftwerk drone. Stunning track on Third, stunning track live.
Then there was “Wandering Star”, a song performed so flawlessly that the audience fell silent, and fell hard. You could hear NOTHING but Beth Gibbons in that infernal warehouse, and it was beautiful…note-perfect, emotionally charged and magnetic. Even the soundman was beaming and nodding. Moments like that are hard to come by, and harder still to enjoy in a place like the Forum. So just imagine what Portishead would be like in a venue that deserved them. \m/
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