A Predictable Surprise

April 23rd, 2012

Portugal. The Man – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 20, 2012

Small changes may be difficult to appreciate in the moment, but when made over longer stretches of time, they can amount to something significant. Take Portugal. The Man: If you had gone to see one of their shows just last spring and then fast-forwarded to Friday night’s sold-out show at Music Hall of Williamsburg, you would have noticed different personnel, songs, lights, jams, gear—even where the musicians stood would have been different. The changes were gradual along the way and through them all, the band has delivered a superlative live show both because of them and despite them.

Friday’s set opened with the explosive “All Your Light” drawing in the crowd immediately. With multiple recent New York City visits, there was a very friendly musical give-and-take between the band and crowd. Indeed the bulbous lights from last tour now seem untethered from the stage, extending out into the audience, almost like a lumpy, clawed hand reaching out to pull in the dancing masses. The lights were perfectly choreographed to the music, flipping orange and yellow during “The Sun,” surprisingly changing to every color but red, white and blue for “So American” and then bouncing across the rainbow for “Colors,” which was an excellent readdition to the set list.

While John Gourley and Zach Carothers remain the brain and heart of Portugal. The Man, Noah Gersh, on second guitar, has become deeply embedded in the sound, adding fleshy solos, elevating jams and mixing in new textures with some well-placed acoustic guitar. The set closed with a triumphant, build-to-climax “Sleep Forever.” Despite all the tweaks, it felt like a well-worn constant, a slightly different band beneath an altered array of lights playing as well as ever. Then, just when things felt comfortable, the band slipped into the well-known coda to “Hey Jude,” with everyone again singing in unison. It was a surprise and yet totally predictable, because with Portugal. The Man the more things change, the more they stay the same. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane |