I first became familiar with Portugal. The Man almost ten years ago, off the back of their fourth LP The Satanic Satanist. Since then, I’ve seen them grow into one of the most in-demand bands in the world. Their latest album, Woodstock – their eighth and first in four years – has easily been their most successful release to date, thanks in part to the huge success of “Feel It Still”, a track which won them a Grammy back in February. As they humorously acknowledge during the show, they’re now a band with “that one song” – yet in the midst of all the attention, they’ve managed to craft one of the greatest live shows on the planet.
Before they hit the stage, local acts Clews and Sloan Peterson had support duties. Sloan performed with a three piece behind her – a trio that includes Lime Cordiale’s James Jennings on drums. Given the rock show that followed, it might seem like Sloan was a rather subdued choice for opener – but she played the part well, jumping between slower jams like “Break My Heart” and taking it up a notch with songs like “105”. With highlights including her single “I Want You”, Sloan expertly blends simple melodies and the sensibilities of classic lyrics with her own charm and a strong sense of style. The set closed with the short and snappy “Stars in your Eyes”.
And then it was time for Portugal. The Man to hit the stage. Well almost. There was one more piece of all important business first: the Welcome to Country. The morning, the band’s decided to withdraw from playing Sunrise on Channel 7, due to the show’s “recent statements” regarding Indigenous youth – and everything that came after. In a statement on Twitter, the band reflected on their own experiences, saying, “We come from rural Alaska and hold very close to our hearts the indigenous people of our home… While we are by no means experts in your countries history we know there are problems that, like ours, are yet to be resolved and only being amplified by the recent statements on Sunrise.”
To provide additional weight to their position on the matter, the group invited Uncle Allen Madden to provide a Welcome to Country, as the group looked on from side of stage. It was warmly received by the crowd who cheered throughout, and makes us think that every live performance in Australia should begin with an acknowledgement of Country. This was followed by a recording of “Unchained Melody” which had the crowd singing along at the top of their voices – a sign the band had a great crowd at their disposal – and a hilarious introduction from Beavis and Butthead which proclaimed the band as the greatest to have ever lived (almost as good as Pantera).
The set which followed was one which leaned on covers and jams as much as it did their own material; the band seamlessly moving from one song to the next, adding in a wide variety of jams and classic tunes, accompanied by some incredible visuals, oft featuring provocative mannequins. They hit this precedent early, launching into “For Whom The Bell Tolls” by Metallica, before a brief rendition of “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd, which led us into “Purple Yellow Red & Blue”, which was beautifully reworked, exploding into an aural, visual and light spectacular. Talk about a theatrical opening. We were twenty minutes in and they’d barely made it through one of their own songs.
“Number One” and “Live in the Moment” followed, which lead into a cover of “Children of the Revolution”, then “Creep in a T-Shirt”, which saw the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” mixed in. “Modern Jesus” went into another jam (I think Black Sabbath inspired?), leading into “All Your Light”, which turned into the most epic song of the night, drawn out by jams, covers of other songs, more jams and then an instrumental of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. It left many a jaw stuck to the Enmore floor.
Thoughout the night they played with the text that appeared on the screen behind them, promising earlier that ‘That Song’ aka “Feel It Still” would not be far away, and indeed they fit it in – though it felt like they were getting it out of the way so they could spend time with one of my favourite PTM tracks, “Sleep Forever” off of In The Mountain In The Cloud (one of their best records if you’ve never given it a listen). This led into another jam that included “Live and Let Die”, “Classic Soldiers” and a main set ending singalong for “Hey Jude”.
A three song encore followed, after a heartfelt thanks from bassist and vocalist Zachary. Taking us home, they churned through “Noise Pollution”, “Hip Hop Kids” and “Holy Roller (Hallelujah)”, during which the group threw shade on screen – remarking “Kanye is Broke” and “Young Thug has no fashion sense”. Earlier they also let us know that “Kyle (O’Quin, their keyboardist) has a Boner”, so you can see how much fun they were having with their set. And really that was the true power of the set – as their roadie poured Jameson in their mouths, and then jumped around on stage thrashing out some of their favourite songs – both of their own making and the classics – it was clear that this was a band who are currently at the peak of their game, and they’re loving every minute of it. Expertly delivering a night of musical gems, they provided no guarantee your ears wouldn’t be ringing by the end of the night. They don’t call them the Lords of Portland for nothing.
I think Beavis and Butthead were right. This may just be the greatest live band on the planet. Tonight we were treated to a non-stop aural (and visual for that matter) assault that proved one of the most entertaining I’ve ever seen – certainly from this band, and possibly from any other. In their 14th year, the band may have perfected the live show. Everyone else can go home. And here I am just wishing they didn’t have to.
Portugal. The Man next play the Forum in Melbourne (3rd May), before finishing off their dates with Groovin’ The Moo.
The writer attended the Portugal. The Man show on 1st May 2018 at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney. Photo by Waytao Shing from Austin City Limits 2017.