ATP Review - Telegraph UK

Portishead: Enveloped in a layered universe
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 10/12/2007

Bernadette McNulty reviews Portishead at All Tomorrow’s Parties, Butlins, Minehead

British eccentricity is a wonderful thing, but in the world of music festivals it can sometimes verge on a strange sort of masochism: only here could a sell-out event take place on a dark, rain-lashed December weekend on the Somerset coast.

This matters little to fans of the revellers of All Tomorrow's Parties, revered for its anti-mainstream, cooler-than-cool bands and indie legends. And this year the ghost of Christmas past was particularly compelling in the return of local heroes Portishead, playing their first full-length gig in a decade.

Ten years seems like a different world in music - back then, main members Beth Gibbons and Geoff Barrow met on the enterprise allowance scheme and Bristol was the epicentre of trip-hop. With its heavy, stripped down hip-hop beats and sorrowful, almost operatic vocals, it was the musical antithesis of mid-'90s handbag house and cheeky Britpop.

Portishead's debut, Dummy, was played everywhere from stoned student bedrooms to middle-class dinner parties, but for the band success seemed like a burden. Uncomfortable with attention, after winning the Mercury Prize in 1995 they spent three years struggling to produce their second album, and then disappeared.

It was unsurprising, then, that Portishead should make their comeback at such a small-scale, local event. But when they took to the stage dressed in black T-shirts and without a word began to play, there was nothing reticent or tentative about their sound.

As the old classics quickly rolled out - Mysterons, Glory Box, Numb and Wandering Star - the songs seemed fresh again and stronger then ever, enveloping you in their layered universe of alien samples and rifle beats pinned up by Gibbons pure, emotional cries. New songs from an album scheduled for release this spring sounded like they were moving in wider directions: from gentle acoustic laments to pounding techno assaults.

Gibbons voice especially is undiminished in its range. She hung tensely on to the microphone, turned inwards to the rest of the band and declared, "I never know what to say." But soon she, along with the rest of the band, was grinning.

At the end, she jokingly apologised for missing a cue on a new song, "Sorry about getting old!" but on the evidence of this performance, Portishead are ageing well with the definite promise of more to come.