Last Night: Portugal. The Man at the House of Blues' Cambridge Room

Portugal. The Man, Port O'Brien
Cambridge Room
March 3, 2010

Better than: any Wednesday evening of music I've had in a long time

Portugal. The Man.
Portugal. The Man.

There was definitely something in the air last night at the House of Blues' Cambridge Room. And yes, it was something other than the pot smoke.

Walking up to the venue and seeing the sign that read "Portugal. The Man show completely SOLD OUT" tipped me off right away that this band was bigger than I had imagined.

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Once inside, the buzz was electric. Port O'Brien, one of the supporting acts on the bill, had yet to begin, but concertgoers were already packed seven-deep against the stage. And even though most folks didn't appear to be familiar with Port O'Brien, they roared at the end of each song as if the headliners had taken the stage.

When lead singer Van Pierszalowski declared, "This is the best crowd we've had on this tour," I wondered if I were dreaming. And if so, what town was I dreaming about?

Port O'Brien put on an excellent 45 minute set of (loud) alt-country-ish indie rock. On record, songs like "I Woke Up Today," "Calm Me Down" and "Oslo Campfire" come across as folksy and sweet, but, live, things were another matter. Pierszalowski put a bitter spin on his songs, spitting out lyrics with a vengeance as his band played it full tilt for the duration.

Certainly a band to watch.

After a thankfully brief delay, Portugal. Tha Man hit the stage and the place literally went ape shit. Starting off with a medley of "And I" and "People Say," John Gorley and the rest of this grubby quartet held the attention of a crowd like a collection of prime-time evangelicals. Even a new song like "60 Years" was treated with a response akin to the venue giving away free beer.

By the time the band made its way through older fare such as "Guns and Dogs" and "Church Mouth," it was hard to distinguish which songs the crowd preferred.

Stylistically speaking, Portugal. The Man is all over the map with its mix of progressive folk and stoner rock. Songs sometimes extended past their expiration date, but the band somehow managed to bring it all back into focus just before tittering off the edge of coherence.

The interplay between members was lockstep-tight throughout the thirteen-song set. Portugal. The Man pulled off an inspiring performance in front of a remarkably large and appreciative crowd.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
At first listen, the music of Portugal. The Man would appear to be out of my standard niche, but the songs of John Gorley have an appeal that crosses conventional boundaries of taste. It is simply impossible not to become engaged in the warped and fresh approach this band brings to its music.

Random Note: Why were half the male audience members wearing knit camps? It certainly wasn't that cold--inside or out--but the fashion sense for Portugal fans would appear to come from the Nanuk of the North line.


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