Show Review: Portishead with Thought Forms at The Greek Theatre, 10/21/11

by Matthew Blake on October 23, 2011

The ecstatic crowd, bathed in light.

Portishead.  14 years since their last Bay Area appearance, the legendary experimental trio have returned.  The majority thought this day would never come, but after long anticipation, it finally did.  Would these sojourned pioneers be able to successfully transfer their art live?

Only one night after folk icon Paul Simon took stage at the Greek Theater, Bay Area fans were finally treated to witness the rare appearance of Portishead, the often recluse Bristol based trio who broke through a stale mid 90’s music scene full of post-grunge artists and R&B one hit wonders.  Along with fellow Bristol residents, Tricky and Massive Attack, Portishead have defined a genre that the three groups have all publicly despised, and rightly so.  The term “trip-hop” is often used but appears confining at best.  Beth Gibbons, Adrian Utley, and Geoff Barrow have expanded to musical depths that are beyond simple, beyond commercial.  Only releasing three records over almost two decades, they have masterfully blended jazz, hip hop, and other musical styles into a surprisingly simple but beautifully rich experience.  Their admirers are a vast bunch, including the likes of hip hop super producer, Dr. Dre.

Accompanying Portishead from the UK on their stateside tour were Thought Forms, who are signed to Invada Records (headed by Geoff Barrow).  Playing to an already densely populated audience, at first glance the trio seemed much a stripped down lo-fi sound with basic instrumentation.  However, we were quickly reminded not to judge books by their covers as the band ripped into a powerful set of a slightly shoegazy, heavily psychedelic sounds that one could even equate to post-rock.  Regardless of musical definition, what we got was a delightful opener for the main acts that just seemed to make sense the more you watched and listened.  It was being confirmed for us that this was definitely for real, pure music in its truest art form.  With meaningful melodies and mesmerizing transitions, they almost made the audience forget, albeit briefly, of who they were there to see.  Their lone self-titled record, Thought Forms, is definitely worth a listen (side note:  it can be located on Spotify).  You could not help but like the band, and after much deserved exposure, I expect them to be heard on a broader level.

Finally, the moment people have waited 14 years for, Portishead took to the stage greeted with an explosive applause.  They opened with the slow moving and mysterious “Silence”, the first track of their most recent (recent being three years ago) album.  The band garnered the audience’s full attention if not with the illicit seriousness of their music, then with their magnificent visual backdrop, panning the band member’s faces and smoothly blending shapes and colors in a 1960’s yet high-tech sort of way.  As with their music, quite simplistic but yet so in depth.

Veterans of Greek Theater performances most likely cried tears of joy when both the artist and venue were announced together.  Although the Bay Area is home to many legendary and remarkable performance locations, I adamantly think the Greek Theater provides the highest level of entertainment quality in terms of both acoustics but setting as well.  One mustn’t look far to realize that both Radiohead and Massive Attack also shared the same stage, providing a dream like atmosphere of nature and experimental art.

As Portishead gracefully targeted songs throughout their three album catalog, one couldn’t help but gather the emotion, the musical perfectionism that they pursue.  It seemed the audience did just that considering the sheer trance they were put in as a result.  The occasional holler would be heard during choruses, but overall, this was a subdued but enthralled audience.  Carefully studying the band’s every move and sound.  The band seemed to mirror the audience, as there was not much in forms of dialogue to be given.  But did we expect that?  Yes.  We knew what they were about and what they had to do, and we let them do it.  Always artists before performers, the group showed us that real music still exists out there.  The original three members accompanied with extras, all assumed their instrumental roles with supreme confidence and class.  If anything, Portishead is known for the haunting yet beautiful voice of lead singer Beth Gibbons.  Known for her lack keenness  for performing publicly, one would think twice as she packed a powerful vocal punch delivering note by note and presenting the band as a well oiled machine who you would’ve thought rehearsed every day for the last decade.  Ms. Gibbons carried no flash or grandeur, her soul filled vocals spoke out to the audience as an anti-pop star, someone who could actually related to the listeners.  An incredible bond was made that night.

Portishead were sure to satisfy their devoted listeners with their carefully chosen set list.  Their performance was simply magical, if not surreal.  The subdued dimly light stage, full of rotating colors and the ever impressive back drop, all added for a marvelous experience.  The band sounded so synchronized, never missing a beat.  Included was the new track “Chase the Tear”, released to raise money for Amnesty International and a possible tidbit from their alleged new album.  As the night neared an end and just when we couldn’t take enough, as if they were feeding us a musical drug, we heard the mind numbing “Threads”.  One only needed to pan the audience for a second to notice how in tune all were to what was being presented.  Never have I seen such devotion, such attention (yes, even during Radiohead’s Greek performance) as that night.  As the main set concluded, I shook my head in disbelief at what just happened.  Wow.  Punk rock is back ladies and gentleman.  Not in the musical format we are used to, but in the sense that these people don’t care.  They put their all into their music, and at the end of the day, it is not done for fame or . 

After a nonstop roar for the band’s return, they made their way back on stage to perform “Roads”.  It only took the opening chord for the audience to identify the song and turn into a desperate frenzy, like kissing your departing loved one goodbye at the airport only to not know when you’ll see them again.  The night was finalized with “We Carry On” and as the band gracefully exited the stage to critical acclaim, we are now faced with the question of what next?  When can we expect another album, if ever?  And touring?  Who knows.  There in lies the mystery and style Portishead bring.  We hate it but love it at the same time.  When their next movement occurs, however, we’ll be back.

This is what music is about!

Set list:

Nylon Smile
The Rip
Sour Times
Magic Doors
Wandering Star (stripped down version)
Machine Gun
Glory Box
Chase the Tear


We Carry On

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul October 26, 2011 at 12:51 am

Enjoyed the show too, but was a little surprised/disappointed that everything they played sounded so similar to the albums. The only song that had noticeable change was “Sour Times”, which was sped up a little. I know what your records sound like, guys.


Rick July 18, 2012 at 8:21 pm

NO ONE enjoyed that band who was remotely ANYWHERE near where I was. You could see the looks on the faces of everyone around me (at least a hundred, as I was RIGHT against the stage) and no one was enjoying the opener. It was at the most, polite lip service, waiting for these losers to get off the fucking stage so Portishead (who we came to see) could get on it with it. Every fucking moment listening to their non-music was such agony. How you could dare lie and say ‘the audience forgot who they were there to see’ is complete and utter bullshit. Real, “pure” music? No, they were a band who musically masturbated in their garage, thought they sounded indie-cool, got signed by geoff barrow who thought he would make a buck selling them as the new baby-portishead, but people clearly can tell they are shit as they have no exposure, terrible reviews, and a really bad album with no direction, message, or depth. It’s just TRYING to sound indie-cool and you perpetuating that and playing along is what makes music shittier and shittier in the multiverse of music.

This band Thought Forms opened up for Portishead a few weeks ago. WORST BAND EVER!! These guys made me waste an EXTRA hour and a half before Portishead came onto the stage, crammed like sardines. These guys are a fucking JOKE; horrible moaning (I thought the Indian singer was having menstrual cramps, the girls ‘duh’ monotone wasn’t inspired or ‘hip’ whatsoever, the drummer was really the only one and he was mostly good looking. Seriously. I was dying a little inside with each passing moment and envisioning the vile acts of non-sexual torment that I wished upon each of them. Their music helped me focus upon these negative thoughts and to send those harmful signals like a fire to smother the air they breathe, to invade their lungs with a vile wind from the innards of a dead god’s fetus, and to wrap their head in a shining burning cacophony of good music, overplayed upon itself like a revolving wonderous mixture of sonic agony and good taste. #DEATHTOTHEPOSEURS


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