Portugal. The Man Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON, June 11
Published Jun 12, 2013After releasing a full-length every year for six years, prolific Alaskan psych rockers Portugal. the Man took a much-needed break in 2012. This culminated in the band returning in 2013 with their seventh full-length, Evil Friends, produced by the equally-prolific Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton.
Despite the break, the band seem to still be reeling from the fatigue of amassing a large back catalogue over a short period of time, as evidenced in their 90-minute set at the Phoenix. While the band were known for their intricate, jammy instrumentation, the live show eschewed quality for quantity. The beginning portion of the set saw the band power through a medley of songs from their entire career, including a track from their 2006 debut, Waiter: "You Vultures!", often cutting out portions of each in order to ensure that every song received some play. This often resulted in the songs being truncated and simplified, notably with fan favourite "People Say," from 2009's The Satanic Satanist.
Gone was the rollicking psychedelia of the guitars and keyboards; the truncated, mostly-riffless version of the track was overpowered by the merciless thumping of drummer Kane Ritchotte. Ritchotte was definitely the loudest player of the night, often drowning out singer John Gourley's signature croon, but instead of embodying passion, his unrestrained sound came off as childish and sloppy. Not to say that all the songs were clipped: "All Your Light (Times Like These)" featured a lengthy prog-rock breakdown during the song that proved the band was still interested in trying something new.
The set itself was fun and high-energy, but the band were as sonically obscured as they were physically, often shrouded by fog and bright LED lighting that would sporadically burst out in pulses of colour that rendered the band members to brightly-dyed silhouettes. Especially during their lengthy encore, complete with Beatles covers, a song played so fast it came off as an attempt of punk, and a percussion breakdown featuring three tambourines and floor-rattling electronic drums, the band came off as trying to do too many things in a short span of time, a noticed parallel to their abundant output.
In the end, the band were unable to continue treading the line between being a fun, high-energy band and makers of layered music, a choice that was enough to excite the audience but not enough to capture the melodic whimsy that the band had spent many albums crafting and refining.