Live review: Portugal. The Man, Telekinesis, Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ the Bluebird TheaterBy Colin St. John | May 16th, 2011 | 1 Comment »
Portugal. The Man began its show Friday — the first of a two-night stand in front of a near-capacity crowd at the Bluebird Theater — in the oddest of ways: by exhibiting an overly long music video that included dog-sledding, gorgeous landscapes and, watch out now, a self-inflicted gunshot wound. (Perhaps the protagonist — clued in from Wasilla, Alaska’s own Portugal. The Man — had gotten the scoop on a Sarah Palin run for the Presidency.) Once the lights came on, a gigantic silkscreen behind the band was partially visible and the trippy display caught the essence of the “Yellow Submarine” cartoons, only somebody had been doing more acid and left some plastic in the microwave.
The art’s vibe was right on: PTM plays a tight yet large psychedelia, a well-rehearsed production of improvisation — if such a thing can exist. (The band’s audience is even harder to explain, something of a snowboarder-y mix of hippies and hipsters. Hipsteries? Hippiesters, perhaps?) The group busted out some faves for the eager assemblage: “Guns & Dogs” from 2009’s “The Satanic Satanist” pierced and frontman John Gourley’s falsetto rang out, recalling Jamiroquai’s and Michael Jackson’s vocal highs. The quartet (and, sometimes live, quintet) takes a cue from both camps, leaning on the pop and catch of “The Sun” (from “The Satanic Satanist”) and “Got It All (This Can’t Be Living Now)” from its upcoming Atlantic debut, “In the Mountain, In the Cloud.” Even if much of its material sounds similar and is structured thusly, PTM knows how to put on an epic show: solos peacocked, lasers beamed, smoke poured out past the Bluebird’s front doors and the backlit lights bestowed a Nine Inch Nails-like mysteriousness to the whole affair.
The meat of the Bluebird sandwich Friday came courtesy of Michael Benjamin Lerner and his band Telekinesis. Lerner sings and plays drums but his music is more pop-punk Superchunk than Phil Collins. Sometimes it can be too saccharine — especially in slower moments — but often the hard edges get propped up by the live trio and it feels just like the 1990s again, a Guided by Voices cover and all.
The youngsters from Auckland, New Zealand and Medford, Oregon in Unknown Mortal Orchestra managed particular heft in the opening slot. Its debut record is out on Fat Possum next month and the tattered, fuzzy tunes expanded nicely live. A standout, “Strangers Are Strange,” rolled rhythmically and whirled in an almost pre-Beatles kaleidoscope. Luckily, Portugal. The Man’s hallucinogenic flag was there to lend its support.
Karson Brown is a Denver photographer and a new contributor to Reverb.