Portugal. The Man: Strange Name, Great Sound

October 26th, 2009

Portugal. The Man – The Bowery Ballroom – October 23, 2009

(Photo: Emily Ibarra)

(Photo: Emily Ibarra)

Following a set of ebullient guitar rock by the Temper Trap, the oddly punctuated Portugal. The Man took the stage as Friday’s headliner at The Bowery Ballroom. The band is led by perhaps the second most well known denizen of Wasilla, Alaska, John Gourley, who plays a big-bodied guitar and sings in a high-pitched voice that could be the love child of Neil Young’s pipes and those of Jamiroquai singer Jay Kay.

Sometimes Miles Davis would perform with his back to the audience. And like a lazy Miles Davis, frontman Gourley oddly spent most of the show with his side to the crowd. Fortunately, like with Davis, it didn’t affect his performance in the slightest. Portugal. The Man’s albums all have different sounds, but their fourth studio effort, The Satanic Satanist, out last July, has earned the band plenty of well-deserved attention. So it was no surprise that much of their set highlighted songs from that disc, including “People Say” (with the crowd singing along), “The Sun,” “Do You” and “Mornings.”

Portugal. The Man—at times accompanied by Judy the fiddler— played plenty of upbeat songs, but they can just as easily go darker. Backed by trippy lights, the band turned jammy and ethereal, with their instrumentals delving into the wide psychedelic swath between the Doors’ moodiness and the liveliness of Santana. They seem like the kind of band you could see two nights in a row and it wouldn’t feel like the same show. And that’s a good thing. —R. Zizmor