.

Portishead Bring Spellbinding Live Show Back to States

The enigmatic British band launches its first U.S. tour in over a decade

October 5, 2011 3:05 PM ET
atp portishead i'll be your mirror review new york
Adrian Utley, Geoff Barrow and Beth Gibbons performing with Portishead at ATP: I'll Be Your Mirror in Asbury Park, NJ.
Griffin Lotz for RollingStone.com

More than three years after Portishead's sudden reappearance, there's still an air of mystery surrounding the British trio. Third, the album that ended their decade-long hiatus in 2008, was one of recent music history's great curveballs, leaving behind the band's trademark moody grooves for even darker prog-rock explorations. Since they declined to tour widely on this side of the Atlantic after releasing Third, the short North American run they just kicked off – curating and headlining All Tomorrow's Parties in Asbury Park, New Jersey last weekend, then coming to New York's Hammerstein Ballroom for two nights this week – is the first chance for many fans to see how the new Portishead works in a live setting.

An ominous one-note bass riff echoed through the darkened ballroom last night as the band filed silently on stage: singer Beth Gibbons, multi-instrumentalists Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley, and three touring sidemen. Gibbons faced away from the crowd, swaying almost imperceptibly in the shadows as her bandmates began building a tense Krautrock rhythm. After a minute or so, she abruptly turned toward the audience and began singing Third opener "Silence" under a blinding spotlight. The crowd roared – then quickly quieted down, spellbound by her haunted, heavenly voice.

Gibbons sounds as otherworldly as she ever did in the Nineties, but aside from that unmistakable characteristic, nearly everything about Portishead has changed since then. The band that made sexy slow jams with a subtle undercurrent of dread on 1994's Dummy and 1997's Portishead is dead and gone, replaced by a gang of ghosts making spooky, nervous noise. That could have made for a schizophrenic setlist – but last night Portishead had no problem segueing back and forth between newer tunes (the spine-tingling ballad "The Rip," the pummelling attack "Machine Gun") and oldies (a sped-up "Sour Times," an epic "Over," a flawlessly seductive "Glory Box"). For all their evident aversion to touring, they remain a top-notch live act.

"Thank you all very much," Gibbons said after the very last song of the main set. It was the first thing anyone from the band had uttered all night. After a brief break, they came back for an encore: "Roads," a warmly received Dummy album cut, and Third's "We Carry On," a wobbly electro-motorik grind during which Gibbons actually leaped down for a bit of crowd-surfing. The audience loved it. When Gibbons climbed back onto the stage, she quickly thanked everyone again, using the same words, then wandered off with the rest of the band. Who knows when we'll see them again?

Set list:
"Silence"
"Hunter"
"Mysterons"
"The Rip"
"Sour Times"
"Magic Doors"
"Wandering Star"
"Machine Gun"
"Over"
"Glory Box"
"Chase the Tear"
"Cowboys"
"Threads"
(set break)
"Roads"
"We Carry On"

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

prev
Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.

X

We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Nightshift”

The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

More Song Stories entries »
 
www.expandtheroom.com