Monday, April 28, 2008

Review: Portishead at the Mayan

Portishead Rehearsal At The Mayan
April 24, 2008
Written by Hova Escobar
Photo Credit: Guido

A sense of anticipation filled my Thursday, knowing that within the next few hours, a band that I've admired for so long and waited almost 10 years to see was finally playing in Los Angeles. Ever since the announcement of Portishead headlining Coachella was made, there's been a buzz about how the gap in time between albums and touring was going to affect the sound of the band. The even bigger buzz came a few weeks ago when news broke about a rehearsal at a "secret location" a few days before Portishead's Coachella debut. I was one of the fortunate ones to get an email on Monday that this show was to take place at a more intimate venue than the desert oasis of Indio; the show would be at The Mayan in Downtown Los Angeles.

I made sure to get there early before the scheduled 7pm set. A few people were already there by the time I pulled up. In the email, there was a sense that only industry and VIP were invited to the rehearsal. I was delighted to find out later that Los Angeles fans of Portishead were randomly selected from their online mailing list to attend this intimate event. Those chosen stood in a line that snaked around the right side of the building. The label line on the opposite end was much smaller and was let in a little earlier than the fan line. Once inside the venue, you could see that the stage set up was stripped down without any flair. If anything, the most interesting thing on stage besides the DJ set up was the skull wearing a Lucha Libre mask. Getting to the front of the stage was easy. It seemed that people in the industry line that were let in first were more concerned with getting their drinks than securing a spot near the front. Maybe that was a good thing because I was surrounded by those waiting in the fan line filling me with the relief of not having to put up with the beeping of Blackberries and irrelevant conversation.

Once the venue was filled up, there was a sense of anticipation as to what the rehearsal would entail. Would it be sound checking? Would it just be pieces of songs? Dare to dream it would be a whole set. Even then you wondered if it would mostly be songs off their anticipated 3rd album "Third." With the clock just past 8pm, Beth Gibbons, Adrian Utley and Geoff Barrow walked to the stage to the sound of deafening applause and cheers from a partially filled Mayan Theatre. Beth thanked the crowd for coming before starting us off with tracks off their new album, "Silence" and "Hunter," and then dropping "Mysterons" on us from their debut "Dummy."

With every song that was played, you could feel the energy of anticipation set free from those of us who wore out our Portishead albums. We finally felt the release of hearing those songs live right in front of us. The band surprised the crowd by continuing to play material from "Dummy" and "Portishead." We heard "Glory Box", "Sour Times", "Cowboys", "Seven Months", "Wandering Star", and "Over." Probably the biggest surprise of the night for me was how well the songs translated from album to live. For me, the transcending track of the night was a song I disliked on the new album, "Machine Gun." After hearing Geoff Barrow manning the drum pads to bring the industrial thumping of the song and the mix of instrumentation, I quickly converted from hater to fan.

Famously shy lead vocalist, Beth Gibbons, wasn't much for small talk. If anything, the times she did attempt to talk to the audience, she was drowned out by applause and screaming from fans happy to hear her engage them. One fan even brought a sign asking the band for Coachella tickets, which got a chuckle out of Beth. The other side of the sign, flipped later in the set, revealed a request for the band to play at the fan's wedding, which Beth with a smile responded, "Of course I will play!"

What started as "practice" for Coachella ended up being an intimate affair. I didn't have to worry about sweaty, drunk people or being too far from the stage to hear anything. The fact that most of the show's audience were fan club members of Portishead cheering on their beloved band was a rare sight indeed. A connection between fan and audience that energize each other is a rare sight in this city. During the encore, Beth came down from the stage to shake hands with the audience, with one of the lucky ones being yours truly, thanking her for a night I would never forget.

The night ended and so did the band's long streak of years played on this side of the pond. They moved on to Coachella, and a writer that blew off any notion of even going to the festival now wanted another Portishead fix. According to their Island Records rep, no tour is scheduled in North America beyond Coachella. For now, those in attendance of the show and at Coachella will be lucky enough to catch Portishead while they can. I walked out of the venue with a buzz, hugging fellow fans, screaming at each other in disbelief about what we just witnessed. There were even people after 8pm that just showed up and walked in! Turns out that after the guest list attendees were let in, it didn't matter who came after since the venue wasn't filled and it was a free event. I guess it never hurts to try, right? What hurts now is the question: When will I ever see Portishead again beyond Coachella? That's something that only time will tell. All I have to say is Radiohead, you better bring it, because right now I know who #1 is on my shows of 2008.


web said...

Congrats on getting this covered... kill the mic rawks.

Oscar said...

Not too shabby. Sounds like good times for all that went!