Tonight The Paramount is filled with Northwest pride, a sense of growing up, and “WOOOOOO”s. Seattle band Sloucher is first to take the stage. They are quite the classic take on a Northwest pastime of mixing grunge with alternative rock and singer-songwriter vibes. Sparklehorse, Ben Kweller, and Swervedriver all come to mind (not that any of them are from the Northwest).
As the music starts, shadows climb the walls as if the band was huddled around a campfire. There is definitely something warm and inviting about Sloucher’s performance. Their sometimes plucked, sometimes distorted guitar combines with low, subtle bass tones to form instantly memorable melodies. The music hits you with a sense of familiarity. “Thanks. We’re Sloucher, we’re from down the street,” says the boy-next-door band, “We’re used to playing in basements so this is nice.“ It’s one of Seattle’s greatest qualities that you can often discover a band at a house show and see them in a matter of months playing festivals like Capitol Hill Block Party or even Bumbershoot. “Has anyone seen us before?” asks lead vocalist Jay Clancy. A hearty amount of “WOOOOOO!”s from the audience and with a chuckle, he responds, “My mom’s here tonight.” They grow up fast, huh, Mom?
Crater’s up next with dark pulsing synths and spacious beats. This band is Going-To-Get-You Pop. Crater guitarist Kessiah Gordon bounces from instrument to instrument. She sways back and forth on the guitar before switching to some midi drum smashing. From there she pops offstage to assure some magic, then runs back on, arriving just in time for her cue to kick in with other-worldly sounds.
The big and gorgeous guitar compliments Ceci Gomez’s vocals, which reach across the room like vines to gently draw you in. Gomez completes the setting with her upbeat dance moves. If Seattle danced, now would be the time, but no, Gomez, you go right ahead. We’ll just stare awkwardly and when we get really into it, we’ll let you know with a “WOOOOO!”
Fifteen minutes before Portugal. The Man take the stage, smoke from the fog machine (and other man-made sources) permeates the air in which hands are thrust up, as the now-classic “WOOOOO!” chant resounds once more. The stage goes dark and the mood changes. Over the speakers, the Righteous Brothers’ version of the 1950’s slow-dance standard “Unchained Melody” settles the Paramount into tranquility. As the high point of the second verse arrives so does the band.
A burst of guitar splatters your brain out onto the screen, or at least that’s what the projections mixed with the invigorating introduction of live music convey. Transforming drops of color reflect the movement of Portugal. The Man’s sound: cavernous digital tones guided by easy-going vocals. But forget about their music: the band moves from one cover to another, breaking down Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” into Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in The Wall,” neither of which are exactly influences that I thought about for the Lords of Portland, but now that I was hearing them they made sense. The Floyd dissolves into their first original of the night, “Purple Yellow Red and Blue,” accompanied appropriately by a laser light show (rainbow colored, of course).
You might expect things to cool off for a moment after such a display, but no, Portugal. The Man kicks right into their hit single, “Feel it Still” off their 2017 release Woodstock. I stand corrected: Seattle does dance. And who knew a chart-topping song, laser light show, and larger-than-life projections were all that was needed to set the mood? Teasing aside, Portugal. The Man puts on a show that is as acoustically stimulating as it is visually. John Gourley has a voice on a genderless register with constant attitude. Its alluring timbre lets you know right away that he’s got something to say. The band provides an overlay of harmonies to place emphasis on lines like, “I don’t need to make amends, but I’m going undercover,” and, “Don’t pray for us, we don’t need no modern Jesus.”
The song “So American,” off their 2011 release In The Mountain In The Cloud is especially captivating and relevant. Hearing Gourley sing, “Every one of you will never try to lend a hand / when the policemen don’t understand” felt like a melancholic parallel to current events. Portugal. The Man are a fresh reminder of how powerful top 40 music can be. They’re a pop band in every sense of the word; the band signed to Atlantic Records in 2010 and their latest single has maintained a spot atop the Billboard charts for seven weeks now. Portugal. The Man are masters of entertainment, but they’re out to do more than sell a catchy tune, making important social messages accessible to many listeners. Towards the end of their set, they kicked into a second rendition of “Feel It Still” as a final message flashed on the projection: “Fight, Resist.” Whether the band is doing The Lord’s work one can’t say, but the reflective elements in their live performance and Woodstock make for worthy pieces of contemplation.
Review by Clare McGrane, DJ assistant for Wo'Pop on KEXP
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