Bristol Academy Review - Yahoo! Music


Gig played on 15/12/07

Imagine if you will, a time before "The War Against Terror", before the X-Factorisation of pop music, before the ipod and downloaded music; a time when ordinary people could afford an ordinary house, and in it, have an ordinary dinner party. At that dinner party, without exception, they were listening to Portishead. Listening to those albums now, they still have that otherworldliness, that curious beauty, but back then the live experience was essentially disappointing. The question was, were Portishead rubbish live, or was it just that their music doesn't translate to the live environment? And then, nothing. Portishead vanished like a Hartlepool canoeist.

Until now, that is. Who'd have thought that they were happily living in Panama, working away in a manner that made The Stone Roses seem like Bright Eyes? The protracted gestation of the Difficult Third Album is apparently almost over and Portishead emerge, blinking in the 21st century glare with a seasonal bonus for the West Country's touting fraternity. So is anyone still out there, waiting? Have their audience grown up and had children? Quite possibly.

Opening with new songs "Wicca" and "Hunter", replete with guitars and dual percussion, it seems the new sound is heavier, more reliant on the drums and guitar than the mixing of before, but this music still sounds unmistakeably like Portishead. Albeit, a Portishead that one could, at a push, dance to. Does it take a decade to learn to play guitar or drums? It seems so. When the familiar sounds of "Mysterons" begin, there's a cheer of recognition, but the crowd doesn't move. They're so packed in they can't.

Even if there was space it's unlikely it would be explored. Because no matter how precise the facsimile accurate renditions of "Glory Box", "Numb", "Wandering Star", "Sour Times" et al are, the sound is, excluding the encore, utterly abysmal, and the band inert. Beth Gibbons does nothing and says nothing. Until the encore, at least, when the sound is improved, and the singer utters the solitary word "Surprise". What follows, in "Roads" and new track "Peaches", are almost sufficient redemption for what has gone before.

Perhaps Portishead have taken the mantra "always leave the crowd wanting more" to its illogical conclusion of not giving anything during the main set, but using the encore to show that, if they so desired and the phase of the moon was right, they could. Your Yahoo! correspondent has no doubt the new record will sound utterly captivating, and of the new songs, "Mystic" and encore "Peaches" are undeniably compelling, depressingly beautiful. Portishead live though? Fabulous songs, but a largely uninvolving, unrewarding experience. It seems some things never change.

by Ian Davies (source)