Portugal. The Man quirky and loud

Droves of fans filled the Cain’s Ballroom for a sold-out Portugal. The Man concert October 5. An unsettling broth of angry and already-drunk people filed in, butting heads and causing general discomfort for a good few hours.
Opening for Portugal. The Man was Norwegian producer Lido. I can’t say I’ve ever attended an EDM concert, so Lido was certainly a first-time experience for me. He was charismatic and talkative for the whole night, eager to share with the crowd again and again that most of his set was improv despite his usual production of “what you might call ‘remixes.’”
His setup seemed unique as far as EDM live-sets go. In front of him, facing the crowd, was of course a wall of synthesizers, keyboards and sequencers. Behind him, however, was a sprawling drumset that circled around and effectively trapped him within a little square of composition. For most of his tracks, after noodling around on the keyboards and getting a solid loop going, he would turn around and unload on the drums, something that was genuinely entertaining given how good he was at the drums.
His ability to seamlessly switch between the keyboards and the drums was mind-boggling at times, and his drumming consistently overpowered the loops he concocted. For parts when he went slower and merely sang over the intimate loops he’d created, it elicited vague thoughts of British producer James Blake, though the latter’s work tends to bear on a far more experimental side. Even so, Lido expressed through the whole night that he was playing “weird shit.”
I’m not the biggest benefactor of EDM, so it’s hard to describe Lido’s set in a musical sense. A sound engineer offstage — with whom Lido had some entertaining banter — seemed to put forth a few samples for each track that Lido would then distort and wiggle between a few chords and melodies.
The samples consisted overwhelmingly of high-pitched voices saying a few words on a loop, usually derived from trap songs, a common trope in EDM. To his credit, however, if his performances were truly improv than his ability to make it all work onstage garners a certain respect in its own right.
One song of his in particular that stood out to me was one that had the warm sound of plucked violins. I couldn’t tell if it was a sample that he worked into the song or if it was merely an effect he’d produced on a synthesizer that he had on an arpeggiator, but it was pleasant to hear regardless.
He ended the set with two remixes. Lido wasn’t expecting anyone in Tulsa to know him, so he was surprised when someone who’d be attending the concert reached out through Twitter and requested that he play his remix of alt-J’s “Left Hand Free.” He obliged, and by the reaction of the crowd, it seemed to be the highlight of his set.
After that he went on a spiel about how uncommon it was for artists to allow openers to play remixes of their tracks. He stated how cool and nice the members of Portugal. The Man were and then went into a remix of their recent hit single, “Feel it Still.” After that he ended the set and bid us goodnight.
I didn’t keep track of just how many songs he played, but it was somewhere around six or seven from memory. Maybe a half-hour after Lido left the stage, Portugal. The Man came on suddenly.
The band consisted of a pianist, a pianist/guitarist who seemed to be on guitar for most of the night, a drummer, a bassist and the frontman vocalist with his own guitar. The head of the drummer’s bass drum bore an image of Weird Al Yankovic with the words “We wouldn’t be here without Weird Al Yankovic.”
As they took the stage, projected behind the band were words that went something like “We’re not very good at stage banter, so tonight’s performance will feature slogans written by management.”
Sure enough, there was no talking on the stage that night, save for a “thank you” at the very end and a brief exclamatory statement from the bassist when they retook the stage for an encore.
Their first song was an overwhelmingly loud cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” After this, things started to break down for me. I’m not a rabid fan of Portugal. The Man, but I’m somewhat acquainted with their discography.
There were definitely songs that I recognized from the night, but the whole set had a quality about it that seemed to blend everything together. The style in which the music was provided didn’t merit that intricate attention be paid. In fact, it encouraged quite the opposite.
The band was in control of their music all night. Loud songs gave way to long, droning intros that fed into more loud songs. They were capable of changing their sound on a dime, with every noise stopping at once several times, an effect so jarring that the listener is reminded where they are for a minute.
Opportunities for improvisation seemed ample but rarely undertook, save for a few stand-out moments. One in particular involved the heavy chord progression that leads into the Beatles’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” a progression that the second guitarist played steadily for perhaps forty seconds while the frontman skipped around stage with his own shrill solo.
The encore consisted of one track: a cover of Oasis’s “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” It was rather tame and quiet compared to the rest of the night’s set, and was a nice send-off for the incoherent concert-goers.
A thick fuzz was present behind each song for the night’s entirety, a fuzz that inspired the listener to not focus on what song was being played next but to instead bob their head along to it regardless. Save for the few times where the band completely muted between songs, there was always a noise onstage, and it was always a loud one.
Portugal. The Man was clearly there to give more of a visceral experience than a technical one, meaning, again, that the concert-goers should be expected to remember the concert all as one lucid moment rather than in bits-and-pieces where the band played this or that. The backdrops were at all times creepy or crazy iterations of nude CGI characters or of timelapses of colored oil dripped into water.
The characters would stare at the crowd, often times spinning in some infinite loop or contorted in ways beyond comprehension; the worst stares came from the ones with pupils. A stand-out backdrop nightmare consisted of a ring of baby heads that the point of view constantly shifted to and away from. That’s not to say that any of the images were grisly or gory. They were all obviously crafted from amateur-ish 3D models and were all intended to look just fake enough so as to teeter on the edge of the uncanny valley.
A few songs into the set, the backdrop got more words that read “We are Portugal. The Man! Just making sure you’re at the right concert. / Thank you for buying and/or stealing our new album.”
These backdrops combined with the trippy lights that at times replaced them and with the music that was a mesh of fuzz and cadence created a concert that even the stoniest critic should have at least tapped their foot too.
I’ll say that I could have used a bit more experimentation, however. Certainly, the concert sounded rather unlike their studio recordings; they were all adapted into cacophonous and chaotic live versions. Beyond these changes, however, the same general structures of the original songs can be easily determined.
With the visceral effect Portugal. The Man was going for, I feel they could have better reached their goal by changing the very structures of the songs and also by having no points of silence in the night, but merely a constant and assaulting barrage of noise over which they could have played all night.
My largest complaint of the night, however, comes from the crowd. Certainly, a sold out crowd isn’t expected to provide a comfortable experience, but most concerts seem to bear crowds that are more or less warm with each other. Not everyone’s becoming best friends, and sure there’s a few people fighting, but most concerts seem to more-or-less breed environments of comfort.
That night’s crowd, however, seemed to enter the venue already hating each other.
A good number of the patrons seemed to pregame the concert, arriving drunk-beyond-reason even before the opener had come on. Everyone butted shoulders with each other, and each basic sense of friction with another person was typically met with a dirty look or a flashed middle finger.
A few verbal fights broke out, though I didn’t see any evidence of anything physical. The multitude of drunk people that melded with the inexplicably angry, sober people that night, however, made for an environment that I felt was bound to erupt at any minute.
Eventually, as the concert drew nearer to its conclusion, tensions seemed to ease. Most of the problem patrons had either quieted down or had been exiled to the back after leaving to get more beer. A few blunts started traveling around the crowd as the concert neared its end.
This final act of the night was paired with more witty remarks on the backdrop, coming in order as “Y’all like… / Smoking weed??? / Getting fucked up? / Discussing politics at family gatherings / That’s badass!”
When they came back on for the encore, the backdrop read “That’s right kids. No computers up here. Just live instruments,” possibly alluding back to a comment Lido had made in his set about Portugal. The Man being “lucky” that they didn’t have to deal with computers onstage.
All-in-all, the concert was very enjoyable. When I was able to block out the people around me, I was able to find some genuine enjoyment in the songs that I was only partially familiar with.
The music as a whole left a little to be desired, but the experience was a net positive one and it surely made a lasting impression.

Post Author: Ethan Veenker