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A Big Band on a Big Stage

September 30th, 2013

Portugal. The Man – Terminal 5 – September 27, 2013


Usually fans bemoan the growth of their favorite bands, thinking back to the “good old days” when they still performed in small clubs and were a special secret. But groups like Portugal. The Man always seem to play beyond their size, overstuffing smaller rooms like Mercury Lounge and The Bowery Ballroom with enough energy for an arena and a half. And playing a very sold-out Terminal 5 on Friday night, they proved that for them, bigger is absolutely better.

After the audience sang along with the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” at full volume over the PA—the energy already tilting the meter into the red—Portugal. The Man took the stage in a swirl of smoke. The backdrop, in the shape of a mountain range, was an apt visual for the set they were about to play, which was one music peak after another after another. Portugal. The Man opened with “Purple Yellow Red and Blue,” off their new album, Evil Friends, the backdrop absorbing green lasers and geometric shapes as the crowd pumped fists, sang along and danced as one collective unit. The set slalomed through the band’s catalog with multiple songs strung together or mashed up or stretched out in mind-blurring jams. All the while that mountain range transformed, flickering through psychedelic animation (blinking fluorescent eyeballs, anyone?) in perfect accompaniment to the music. Covers and teases were abound, like their take on “Day Man” from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia sprouting up organically from the Evil Friends title track. Frontman John Gourley was in top form, singing and holding down lead-guitar duties. His performance of Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind”—a rare standalone moment in a show that otherwise didn’t let up—was a highlight.

The end of the set somehow found its way back to where it began with a full-throttle reprise of “Purple Yellow Red and Blue.” It was the same song, but somehow different, better, bigger, like the band had put on 20 lbs. of well-toned muscle over the course of the night. Those in the crowd had spent the better part of 90 minutes bouncing and sweating and bumping into one another but they still had enough for an over-the-top, Beatles-flavored encore that began with the long, manic drum-and-guitar-jams of “The Devil,” which metamorphosed into their very own take on “Helter Skelter.” Then they launched into perhaps their longest, most triumphant piece, “Sleep Forever,” the audience climbing one last Day-Glo peak as the climax naturally gave way to a snippet of “Someday Believers” before giving everyone a chance to use up their last bit of energy on a glorious sing-along of the “Hey Jude” coda. It was a big ending for a big show and surely not a soul in the room would have had it any other way. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Ross | jeremypross.com