As far as psychedelic bands go, Portugal. The Man are among the most refined and entertaining in their live delivery. Psychedelic music by its very nature is sonically difficult to contain, with a tendency for self-indulgent solos, talentless jams, undesired feedback and generally, a difficult time for sound engineers – The Flaming Lips’ (QRO live review) set at last year’s Harvest Festival demonstrated this. So, when the half-Alaskan-half-Oregonian five-piece jogged onstage at Corner Hotel in Melbourne on Thursday, February 9th, and opened impressively with their catchy single “So American”, it was surprisingly clear the next hour would be entertaining for fans and non-fans alike.
In spite of being slotted between Guineafowl and Givers, Portugal. The Man drew in the largest crowd of the night; possibly due to their involvement in Laneway Festival (QRO Melbourne recap) and the success of their latest release, In the Mountain In the Cloud (QRO review). The purposeful jams and poppy psych-infused songs prompted people to push forward eagerly. Tracks such as “Head Is a Flame (Cool With It)” and “Floating (Time Isn’t Working My Side)” were met with a caroused mass of chorus-belters and belchers. The Corner Hotel, tinged in psychedelic reds and purples for most the night, shook to the repeated lines, “Time isn’t working my side.” One of the gems of the night came midway through the set: an explosive cover of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter”, played with vigour and sweat. The latter being brought on by the energetic performance, Australian heat and front man, John Gourley, donning a deer-themed, thick Alaskan sweater.
Thus far, Portugal. The Man had managed to contain their vibrant sound of twee synths, flanged guitars, funky rhythm-section and falsetto harmonies. As the set neared its end, they exposed their capacity for the delicate with the heavy-eyed “Sleep Forever”. Despite the beauty of this song, the band was marginally less impressive here. This was quickly remedied with a groovy rendition of “Got It All (This Can’t Be Living Now)”, triggering some egregious displays of white-boy dance moves. Evidently, their live exploits better convey and represent the ‘poppier’ end of their oeuvre, and not their ballads. The mild-mannered Gourley did the customary, “Thanks, you’ve been the greatest,” spiel to sweetly conclude a solid, though not mesmerising, set of tight tunes and intoxicating hooks.