A review of Portugal. The Man‘s first album, Waiter: “You Vultures!” said “they unfailingly take themselves too seriously.” It is a sentiment that is both true and not true at the same time. The band has often violently swung from seriousness to insouciance sometimes from album to album, sometimes from song to song. The same was true of their live show in Los Angeles, a production with good intentions but often confusing execution.
Before the band’s set, bassist Zachary Carothers came on stage to introduce an opening act. Not Cuco, who had played early to mixed reactions, but members of an Indian tribe from Los Angeles. Carothers said “we are from a small town in Alaska where we grew up around the indigenous people” so every tour stop they try to find indigenous people to come on stage and educate the crowd. The two tribe members spoke. Neither adjusted the height of the mic stand so the words were hard to understand at best. Before they departed, one took out a hand drum and sang two songs for the crowd. Drunk white kids in the crowd threw bows to the music, generally missing the point of education or respecting someone’s tradition that is not their own but I can’t blame them. Portugal. the Man has to know this is a recipe for at best a lukewarm reception, at worst pure ignorance.
Immediately after the indigenous people left the stage, the music video for “Feel It Still” began playing on the big screen as the band and auxiliary players entered. But in a humorous surprise, Beavis and Butthead commentating on the video as they did in their long running TV show. I’m not sure I can emphasize what an awkward transition it was from educating the audience on indigenous people of the Los Angeles area to Beavis and Butthead.
After the introduction, the band broke into a cover of Pink Floyd‘s “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. II” which transitioned into “Purple Yellow Red & Blue.” It felt a little odd to officially kick off the set with a cover song but it became clear that Portugal. the Man LOVES cover songs.
Later in the set, the band turned “Creep in a T-Shirt” into a cover of T-Rex’s “Children Of The Revolution” and immediately followed that with “Atomic Man” into the Rolling Stones‘ “Gimme Shelter.” During “Gimme Shelter” the big screen behind the band on stage said “don’t worry. That song is next.” Needless to say, next was “Feel It Still.”
The song came six songs into a sixteen song set which is ballsy. After that point, the crowd slowly made the decision if they would stay or go. For those who left, I can’t blame them. The parking situation at the venue meant there was one exit and surely staying to the bitter end meant sitting in traffic in addition to normal Los Angeles traffic. Who wants that? For those who stayed, there were certain rewards.
First was an odd medley of “All Your Light (Times Like These)” into “I Weigh With Kilos” from Songs of Metric Man into the Beatles‘ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” They also did a psychedelic cover of “Dayman” from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia into “So American.” In both instances the covers of “I Weigh With Kilos” and “Dayman” felt too insouciant for what surrounded it. The band was almost trying to prove that even though they have written serious songs, they’re still quirky and fun. It is as if that line from their first album review still haunts them. They feel it still.