Show review: Portugal. The Man at The Orange Peel

Portugal. The Man bassist Zach Carothers exploded with energy on multiple occasions, whipping his instrument’s neck skyward as far as his arms’ range of motion would allow. Photo by Edwin Arnaudin

“Feel It Still” is so nice, Portugal. The Man had to play it twice.

At least that was the case on Tuesday, Aug. 22, the first night of the band’s two-day residency at The Orange Peel. Taking the stage as The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” serenaded the sold-out crowd from the venue’s speakers, the Portland rockers settled into an appealing groove with an instrumental take on Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” It soon gave way to a verse of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” before easily transitioning into the band’s own “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” and the aforementioned peppy single.

From these early selections, the sonic rapport between longtime collaborators John Gourley (guitar/vocals) and Zach Carothers (bass/vocals) solidified itself as one of the finest in modern rock outside of Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and Tim Commerford.

Cool (to the extent that he kept his Hunter S. Thompson bucket hat and heavy looking jacket on until the one-song encore) Gourley showcased his smooth upper register pipes throughout the evening, along with plenty of inventive string work.

Looming large to Gourley’s left, Carothers exploded with energy on multiple occasions, whipping his instrument’s neck skyward as far as his arms’ range of motion would allow. None was as involved as when mid-set favorite “All Your Light” — this writer’s vote for one of the best songs of the past decade — gave way to an extended breakdown of the bass line from The Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy.” Gourley departed the stage to fully shift the spotlight to his bandmate — literally illuminating the bassist in the bright-ish central light, one of the few times either guitarist emerged from the shadows at the edge of the stage — returning to help finish the lead-in anthem after its involved detour.

Generally augmenting the musical goodness were projected graphics of anonymous, uniform humanoid/mannequin entities, occasionally nude and engaging in bizarre rituals, including kinky sexual adventures.

Better still were a number of cheeky statements that claimed to have been written by Portugal. The Man’s management as compensations for the band’s lack of audience banter skills. When not introducing such songs as the rousing “Modern Jesus,” the text inspired cheers through a seemingly intentional erroneous greeting to the crowd with an unspecified “[city name]” left uncompleted, jabs at Pitchfork’s 6.6 grade for the band’s new album, Woodstock, as well as drug-friendly and politically stirring messages.

Strong as the five-piece was rolling through its hits, the ensemble was arguably most in its zone when channeling Oasis. The “Live Forever”-referencing “So Young” proved the band can ride a slower tempo as well if not better than a rollicking one, while a passionate, faithful take on “Don’t Look Back in Anger” — with backup vocal assistance from serviceable opening act The Dig — was so good it probably should have ended the night.

At the cover’s conclusion, a stagehand carted off a guitar, Carothers looked around and said something to the extent of, “They’re going to be a few minutes” — and the band reeled off “Feel It Still” again. Clocking in at a mere two and a half minutes, and catchy as hell, the jam was a sensible choice from a filler and popularity perspective, and though seemingly no one complained, the repetition nonetheless felt a bit odd.

In the one-two punch’s wake, “Atomic Man” couldn’t help but seem like a regression, yet the crowd noise remained high, not wanting the night to end. After a quick break, Carothers walked to the edge of the stage before the lone encore of “Number One” and praised the audience for being the loudest to date on the current tour. He also expressed his fondness for The Orange Peel, which he noted the band had played twice before, and proclaimed that they would be back the next night to “do it again.”

True to Carothers’ word, hardly anything changed for the Aug. 23 performance, besides Gourley’s less-wintery wardrobe. While the musicians brought the same passion and musical gifts to the same space, and received similar booming appreciation for their efforts, the near duplicate experience brought to mind the monotonous grind of the road. Despite the unpredictability of a different audience each time, offering essentially the same stimuli must have its limitations, even — if not especially — for its creators.

Unfortunately not designed for people who want to see a talented band on consecutive nights in one’s hometown venue, the latest Portugal. The Man traveling show still packs plenty of excitement in single installments. Indeed, the only major difference between the dual Orange Peel gigs was the absence of a second lap with “Feel It Still.” Ready for an encore take after the night’s giddy singalong to “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” especially with the repeated visual cue of the stagehand in motion, the hit stayed in the bag and officially gave the edge to the previous night.

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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