Review: Portugal. The Man rock with kids, get fans dancing at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg
Portugal. The Man put on a clinic Saturday in St. Petersburg. Couple of them, actually.
Hours after soundchecking with a group of kid musicians from St. Pete, the Wasila, Alaska, indie rockers showed Jannus Live how to get moving with a night of trippy lights, cacophonous chords and slithery rhythms, encouraging everyone there to rock out and get down all at once.
“We’re as far away from home as you can be in this country, and that’s f---ing cool,” said bassist Zach Carothers.
Portugal. The Man are a roll-with-it band with a roll-with-it sense of humor — they played a torchy cover of Day Man, a song made famous on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Carothers got chatty with fans on the balconies of the Jannus courtyard’s condos. (“Are we keeping you up? What’s the rent over there? You got an open concept? Good kitchen?”) Beyond that, they’re a hard act to classify — and they don’t particularly seem to care.
They still bring quite a bit of the Pixies-inspired, guitar-driven stuff that won them many fans over the past decade; John Gourley’s pointed falsetto and his and Eric Howk’s crunching guitars can knock you around a bit. You had your driving fist-pumpers, Waves and Hip Hop Kids, the Britpunky Evil Friends and the lumbering, chord-ripping And I and People Say, and judging from the number of folks yelling along, they still do the trick.
But at Jannus, what stirred the drink and moved the loins about Portugal. The Man was their rhythm section, Carothers and drummer Jason Sechrist, with a heavy assist from keyboardist Kyle O’Quin. They’re the reason you saw men and women dancing, hard, to Modern Jesus and Noise Pollution, both gothic disco cousins from another planet.
Holy Roller (Hallelujah) was heavy as a brick, yet practically dared you to bob your head and bounce. Atomic Man was a bit of everything at once, a little power rock and New Wave cluster bomb lobbed into the crowd. And Sechrist’s killer roll ushering out All Your Light (Times Like These) was a wicked shot of adrenaline that built fans up for an extended, psych-prog smoke sesh that could’ve been conceived in a planetarium.
“Sometime I just like to sit back and let these guys play,” Gourley said. “Pretty good band.”
This could be a direction Portugal. The Man are ready to lean into. New single Feel It Still, from their forthcoming album Woodstock, is their danciest song yet, a retro-pop hip-shaker that could've come from Mark Ronson. Slyly subversive yet far and away the most accessible thing they’ve ever done, it’s the song that ought to catapult Portugal. The Man up a level or two. (Funny enough, they were selling $25 T-shirts that read, “I LIKED PORTUGAL. THE MAN BEFORE THEY SOLD OUT.”) They actually played it twice on Saturday, once in the middle and again at the very end, and people still danced the second time around.
Feel It Still was a highlight for many on Saturday — not least the students from NoiseMakers in St. Petersburg, who got to perform it with Portugal. The Man at an afternoon rehearsal.
The get-together started with NoiseMakers owner Gabe Whitney, who often reaches out to bands on tour in hopes they might be willing to meet with students. So far they’ve hung out with Vance Joy, Carly Rae Jepsen, Blind Pilot and others.
“Vance Joy inspired a bunch of people to play the ukulele,” he said. “Blind Pilot talked to us for an hour, hour and a half. They were super nice, and the kids went home and we had like 10 new songs written in a week, which is pretty cool. Inspiration is a big key for them.”
When Portugal. The Man proposed performing with the students, Whitney turned to YouTube. Over two and a half weeks, they picked out an arrangement of Feel It Still.
“That was all their proposal,” Whitney said. “I’m always amazed to have a band get back to me, and to get back and have this happen is pretty cool.”
The band seemed excited by it, too.
“Support people like that,” Carothers told the crowd. “Put instruments in the hands of young people.”
And with that endorsement of education, Portugal. The Man played Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2). That led into Purple Yellow Red and Blue, another one of those secret disco diamonds, featuring a cameo from opening rapper HPBeenDope.
The late-night show ended just before midnight, with that encore of Feel It Still giving way to Jay Z's 99 Problems booming across the overhead. Like Portugal. The Man themselves, the message was a little hard to pin down. But got you moving nonetheless. Class dismissed.
-- Jay Cridlin