Portishead Sound Academy, Toronto ON October 10
Published Oct 11, 2011Word of advice for any artist struggling with ticket sales: hold off on touring for 13 years. This was the action taken by trip-hop pioneers Portishead, who rolled into Toronto for two sold-out nights at the 3,200-capacity Sound Academy. Of course, not every artist can afford to take a sabbatical and pick and choose when they perform live, but the Bristol crew definitely received a hero's welcome upon hitting the stage.
Accompanied with three extra players, Geoff Barrow, Beth Gibbons and Adrian Utley made up for not touring 2008's Third with a set that definitely favoured their latest LP like it was a new release. Walking on to that album's opening track, the six-piece settled in without addressing the crowd, and let the swirling psychedelia and giant "P" speak for them.
Almost immediately, the visuals began to steal the show: the live cameras captured the band using effects that did everything from multiplying and oversizing members to presenting a collage and scribbling over top of them. But performing with mostly live instrumentation, Portishead wasted little time demonstrating why they're still such a hot ticket.
Gibbons's otherworldly voice is unlike any other, and on stage, she has remarkable control of it. Jumping from the timid ("The Rip") to the impassioned soul ("Mysteron") to the seductive temptress ("Glory Box"), she made all of the transitions while keeping her laid-back charm intact.
Much like Gibbons, the band didn't break a sweat moving back and forth between their catalogue, despite 1994's Dummy sounding like day to Third's ominous night. No moment better exemplified this then their devolution from "Machine Gun" to "Glory Box." Fittingly squeezing Portishead's "Over" in between, "Machine Gun" confounded the sound system with its growling bass and titular beats, while the way they brought back the beat after Gibbons's climactic "forever and ever" cry in "Glory Box" was just chest-crushing.
An encore of the heart-wrenching "Roads" and the motorik pulsations of "We Carry On" brought the night to a dizzying and emotional close. For a band as triumphant, poignant and exhilarating on stage as Portishead, it's a shame they don't do this touring thing more often. But then, that's what makes moments like this so memorable. And there's no way anyone will forget night like this.