Shrine Exposition Hall – Los Angeles, CA
Words/Photos by God Frank
When I die I want Portishead’s Dummy CD playing on an endless loop at my funeral. No babble from people who really didn’t care about me and ignored me my whole life, trying to make themselves feel better before they completely forget about me in 2 weeks. Just an endless stream of Beth Gibbons soulful and angst ridden vocals washing over the sparse crowd. The three people in this world who actually bothered to get to know the real me will get it.
So naturally I almost wet myself when I found out that Portishead was going to tour the states for the first time since 1998! Yeah, they played Coachella back in 2008 but that was a single show that required you to buy an expensive 3 day festival pass in order to attend. Knowing this was probably the only chance I would ever have to see them live, ever, I was at my computer with the Ticketgouger Ticketmaster website open the moment tickets went on sale and I got my ticket to Tuesday’s show the second they became available. Considering they sold out less than an hour later it was a good thing I did. Then after a couple of months of longingly looking at my ticket waiting for the show it finally came!
I hopped in the car after work on Tuesday and headed down to the dreaded Shrine Expo Center. Seriously, could Goldenvoice have picked a worse venue for this show? The Expo Center is barely passable for rave show or dance band. For a band like Portishead it was completely unacceptable. Clearly they didn’t know anything about the band before booking the venue. But even though I was guaranteed poor sight lines in a crappy venue, and even though I had to go alone, I was excited to finally get to see a band whose music has meant so much to me all these years.
The show started with a set from the opening act Thought Forms. Or at least I think it was Thought Forms. Nobody actually bothered to introduce them, and they didn’t bother to greet the crowd or introduce themselves either. They were okay, nothing particularly special but not bad either. Actually a pretty good match musically for a Portishead show. Very atmospheric and moody, but a little more uptempo and dare I say “rockin’” than the Bistol band I was there to see. I probably would have enjoyed them a little more had I been on something, but they didn’t suck. When they finished their 35-40 minute set they left stage just as they arrived on stage, without a word being said. I was somewhat perplexed by this. Isn’t the point of being an opening act to get exposure and gain fans? That’s kind of hard to do when you make absolutely no effort to make a connection with the crowd or even let the crowd know who the hell you are. They definitely missed that opportunity and I would be very surprised to hear from them ever again.
After the stage hands did some work setting up the stage and instruments the lights went down and the moment I’ve craved since 1994 was finally there. White lines moved across the video screen behind the stage before finally creating the famous Portishead “P” logo. The crowd went crazy and the band took the stage! While normally a trio of Beth Gibbons, Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley, they brought a few more people with them and are touring as a sextet with an extra drum set-up and an additional guitar among other enhancements.
The show began with “Silence and Nylon Smile”, two tracks from Portishead’s underrated and poorly titled Third CD. Both songs were solid and a nice warm up to get the crowd going. After “Nylon Smile” ended someone next to me who must have known the play list from previous shows back East said, “This place is going to erupt now.” He was completely right as soon as the soft beginning of “Mysterons” started, every single person in the Expo Center screamed. Haunting and soulful, it’s clearly a fan favorite and they totally did it justice with Beth’s voice sounding every bit as strong as it did when Dummy came out in 1994.
They went back to the Third CD for The Rip. Not a favorite of mine, it was still good and honestly if they went straight from “Mysterons” to “Sour Times” I may have had an accident in my pants from excitement so it was probably a good thing that they broke them up. So yeah, “Sour Times” followed “The Rip.” It was exactly as it was on the CD, but you don’t fix what’s not broken, right?!?! With everyone singing along they nailed the closest thing to a hit they have had to perfection.
Portishead never toured after the release of Third, so with this essentially being a long delayed Third tour, they went back to that CD for “Magic Doors.” Like most of the tracks on the Third CD, it had more energy than what we previously had heard from Portishead on their first 2 discs. They followed that up with what turned out to be one of the highlights of the night.
In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, Dummy is an amazing CD. There literally isn’t a bad track on it. If I were to rank the 11 songs on the disc, “Wandering Star” would be toward the bottom of that list. While still a good song, at a normal show that would have been my bathroom break. Fortunately for me and the crowd (but unfortunately for my bladder) they stripped down the song to an almost acoustic version that was nothing short of haunting and magical. The additional band members left stage for the moment, the lights went down and Beth and Adrian Utley sat on stools at the front of the stage under a spotlight and performed what was one of the knock your socks off highlights of the night. Beautiful and unexpected, it was pure brilliance, taking a song that normally gets lost on a disc with much better songs and turning it into a show stopping performance that not one person in the building will ever forget.
By they were just getting started! Next was “Machine Gun” with its pulse pounding beats that had the entire place dancing. Then back to their slower angst filled roots with two of my personal favorites “Over” and “Glory Box.” Next came “Chase the Tear”, their funding raising song for Amnesty International. Already an hour into the show, they kept going with “Cowboys” before finishing their main set with another song from Third, “Threads.” They then thanked the crowd and left the stage.
In this era when encores are less of a thank you to fans begging for another song, and more of a planned part of the show, you knew they were coming back. Oh yeah, and the lights didn’t go up and they hadn’t played “Roads” yet so they didn’t fool anyone into thinking they were done. I don’t think anyone in the building would have let them leave without playing “Roads”, so after a few minutes of taking in some electrolytes (or vodka?), they returned to stage for a 2 song encore.
And yes, the encore started with “Roads” (Dummy) before finishing with “We Carry” On from Third.
In the end, I left the Expo Center alone, just as I arrived, but with my tummy full of trip-hoppy goodness. Having seen not only one of my bucket list concerts, but having them completely live up to all my expectations. I really hope it’s not another 13 years before they tour the states again, but whenever the next tour is, I will be there.