(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Concert review - Portugal. The Man, with the Lonely Forest and the Epilogues

2 May, 2012 (Ogden Theatre, Denver CO)

What a great night! And what a difference from last year's show. This time, Jägermeister sponsored Portugal. The Man's tour. Sponsorship is a great way for companies to support the arts. They pushed their brand with a host of tearaway posters, cute Jäger girls handing out swag, and the Jägermeister logo projected on the walls and ceiling. On the other hand, they clearly paid for an impressive stage lighting setup that added a lot to the show.

Along with the three bands, the show featured a DJ warming up the crowd and playing between sets. He wasn't bad, but it wasn't a good fit for this set of bands. Once or twice he managed mix in something the crowd recognized or liked. Otherwise, he was just a mild distraction.

Denver band, the Epilogues kicked off the show. Despite being added to the bill in the last week or so, they proved to be a good stylistic match to the touring lineup. Their heavy sound was a good preamble for Portugal. The Man.

While the rest of the band stayed fairly static, front man Chris Heckman provided an interesting contrast. His voice was taut with tension with a touch of nasal tone, but his body couldn't tolerate much repression. As the songs pounded out guitar thrash, he'd break away and dance between his mike and the keyboard player. With an expressive flail, he gave the Epilogues a bigger stage presence.

The songs ranged from slower grinds to thick grunge, while the vocals laid down an emo, confessional style. The band sparingly showed a good sense of dynamics. One song that pushed more of their boundaries started with eerie synth washes and a dirgelike groove before shifting into a grungy shoegaze sound. The dynamics came when they created a sweet interlude with ethereal tatters of feedback that broke up the heavier sections.

The Epilogues closed out their set with the one tune of theirs I knew, Hunting Season. Their live version ticked up the pace and featured a strong, busier drum part.

The Lonely Forest's last recording, Arrows (review), had a light, indie rock vibe. This didn't set them up as an obvious touring partner for Portugal. The Man. But heavy, throbbing bass and tight, busy drumming dominated their live sound. In fact, the boomy bass unbalanced the mix for the first couple of songs. But once the sound guy fixed the EQ, the deeper tone set the right feeling.

Like the Epilogues, the Lonely Forest stayed fairly static, except for band leader John Van Deusen. Mirroring Portugal. The Man's stage set up, Van Deusen led the songs from stage right instead of center. When he wasn't singing, his stage style showed punk roots: crouching tight as he played, then moshing into the bass player.

But back on the mike, his clean, open vocals revealed his vulnerable side. Van Deusen's singing on tunes like Turn Off This Song and Go Outside had Michael Stipe's sincerity and tone without slipping into a mumbled performance.

As their stage presence contrasted between static shoegazer focus and some punk energy slipping through, the Lonely Forest's earnest indie rock occasionally positioned them as a Portlandia house band. But their musical range kept them from sliding into parody. Dreamy beginnings led to crunchy majesty. Thunder dropped away, leaving a simple guitar line to carry forward. Throughout, Braydn Krueger's drumming added the perfect complexity.

The DJ finally packed his gear and cleared the stage. A jazzy recording played in the gap while the crowd grew restive in anticipation of Portugal. The Man's set. Where last year's tour cloaked the band in darkness, this year the stage was filled with light globes.

The band still effectively used darkness to keep focus on the music, but now the punctuations of light were grander as they supported the deeply psychedelic set. The songs flowed quickly, with the briefest of pauses to swap instruments or retune.

As the audience danced and sang along, John Gourley's falsetto vocals led the way. There were some nice surprises in store. A tribal rhythm kicked off the bluesy ritual of The Devil, which morphed into a trippy cover of Helter Skelter. The original's frantic energy was highly mutated into an acid soaked wall of sound as the orbs of light strobed colorfully along with the beat. Between the volume, the distorted grind, and the light show, it was like time traveling back to the old acid tests of the '60s.

The show favored tracks from last years In the Mountain, In the Cloud (review). The relaxed bounce of Floating (Time Isn't Working) split the difference between Beatlesque and sounding like a lost track from David Bowie's Young Americans. Gourley's solo was awesome as he started out soulful and built into an reverberating jam.

PTM also played a strong version of Chicago. This time Gourley's vocal sounded like Robert Plant presiding over a deranged hoe-down before the heavy thrash of the song kicked in.

After the set, with the crowd calling for an encore, bassist Zachary Carothers strolled out. After telling us how much they loved Denver, he seemed to realize the rest of the band was still AWOL. "These guys always do this me". Someone called for a bass solo and Carothers laughed, "I'm not going to fucking bass solo." The band came out rescued him as they kicked into Do You. Another song or two later, they closed out on Sleep Forever. As the song mutated into Hey Jude's refrain, the crowd swayed along.

More photos on my Flickr.

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