Portugal. The Man, Lee’s Palace, Toronto, ON – 5/27
Cult followings are always impressive. Those little pockets of people that latch onto a largely unheralded talent and love it for all it’s worth are more commonplace in the internet era than ever before, and Portugal. The Man benefits from such specified dedication on a nightly basis. Frontman John Gourley – who clearly sets the tone for the group – cut off most of his once-unruly mane and began facing the audience head-on since his last visit to Toronto, and his song selection shifted its primary focus accordingly from psychedelia to anthemic freak-rock.
The quartet – from Alaska via Portland, Oregon – can still be hard to pin down stylistically as their folky tunes often give way to raging climaxes. There is also a healthy serving of jam in their shows, evidenced by the extended introduction of ‘How The Leopard Got Its Spots’ to open the set. This selection from the bands debut album paved the way for a host of newer cuts that showcased Gourley’s propensity for empathetic lyrics and catchy choruses.
2010’s American Ghetto received little attention, as but two tracks from the bands most recent LP appeared in the set. ‘The Dead Dog’ reared its head early, and ’60 Years’ came as part of a fantastic closing sequence. In between, 2009’s The Satanic Satanist handled the lion’s share of the load, with songs like ‘The Sun’, ‘The Home’, and ‘The Woods’ delighting the audience. Gourley – who can be most aptly compared to Prince (with an indie rock sensibility) – owned the room with his high-register vocals, nimble guitar work, and quietly confident presence.
As the night pressed on, with the crowd blissfully singing along to the majority of the songs, a noticeable similarity arose from many of the triumphant choruses. It’s possible that an experienced writer such as Gourley employs such melodic continuity as part of a greater theme, or that perhaps his disposition for hooks reminiscent of 90’s alt-rock can’t be avoided. Intentional or not, this lack of variety was the only downside of an otherwise well-conceived set. Moments of collective catharsis, such as the emphatic “I’m not afraid to die!” chorus of ‘Colors’, made it all worthwhile in the end.
Wrapping things up around the 20-song mark, ‘People Say’ offered the twangiest moment of the show and a great example of Gourley’s punctuated cadence. This high point segued into another, as ‘AKA M80 The Wolf’ closed the set proper with a hypnotic breakdown and the most blistering peak in the bands repertoire. For the encore, ‘And I’ steered its way though a trippy intro and instrumental sections that could have emanated from a 1970’s Allman Brothers Band jam. Gourley and co. closed this number with the instructional turn of phrase “take to the streets,” and their devoted fans happily obeyed.