Portugal The Man
with Play Radio Play, The Photo Atlas, The Only Children
Orlando, Fl Aug. 5, 2007
by Jen Cray
I'd love to go back in time and see my friends and I, in our teen years, through the eyes of the older concert-goers. Did we look ridiculous with our baggy pants, flannel shirts, and green hair? We thought that we looked quite fashionable standing at the feet of a very young Green Day. In fact maybe we looked to the twentysomethings the way the kids with their white headbands, bicycle caps, and large nerd glasses look to me now. These fashion flaws shouldn't be a distraction to me when I go to one of these predominantly young shows, but it is. Headbands -- really? What's next? Leg warmers and off-the-shoulder sweatshirts?!!
Enough fashion critique, the music. Portugal The Man brought along a diverse group of myspace bands to open up for them at their evening in Orlando. Kansas' The Only Children rocked like Tom Petty's kids, and earned extra points for bringing in our town's own Mike Dunn to fill in own bass. Their lyrics may have been a tad trite, but they were still my favorite act from the opening entertainment.
The Photo Atlas are a strange band. Musically I could totally get behind them. A totally Animal-like drummer, a reserved yet obviously skilled guitarist, and a happy-to-bop-around bassist were only downgraded by the painful nail-scratching vocals of their frontman, Alan Andrews. While residing beneath the radar of better bands like Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand, these guys had catchy melodies and danceable beats ("come down here and dance with us," was the invitation by Andrews early in their set), but that voice kills it for me.
Despite my reservations about The Photo Atlas, I would have gladly listened to them for another half hour if it had meant avoiding Play Radio Play.
This Texas self-proclaimed "Straightedge Softcore" electronic whine music was one of the worst thirty minutes I've ever encountered at a show. My only entertainment during the band's set was in noticing that the singer, Dan, looked exactly like the actress who played Eric Stolz's younger sister in Some Kind of Wonderful. The resemblance was so uncanny it was distracting. So, I hated this band, but -- to be fair -- the audience was loving every second of the mellow dramatic drone!
Did ya know that Portugal the Man are from Alaska? I didn't realize that anyone was from Alaska, let alone an interestingly blues-soaked rock band.
The trio, whose touring band grew to be a quintet, performed in almost total darkness except for a sporadic spotlight. That alone would have posed enough of a challenge for yours truly and my trusty camera, but to further complicate things, singer/guitarist John Baldwin Gourley came out with a hoodie pulled low over a hat pulled even lower and then sang to the back corner of the stage. Does he think that he's Tool's Maynard Keenan or something?!
It was a damn good thing that their music was strong enough to make these first two points endurable. Their sound takes the essence of blues rock from the mighty Zep, drags it through the mud of new progressive rock a la Sparta/At The Drive In, and then tosses in a hint of white boy Beck-ish funk. I gotta say, there's something really appealing about this band, and the full house at The Social seemed to agree with me. It was a brief introduction to the band with the strange name from the great white north (wait, that's Canada, isn't it?), but it whet my appetite for more.