Alaskan Indie rockers Portugal. The Man landed in DC February 24 with lasers, psychedelic imagery and sound. They played a nearly two-hour set of their signature fusion of electro-glam ’60s rock for their fans at The Anthem, a new venue at the Wharf in Southwest. The production, music, and showmanship made it a concert to remember.
This sold out show was their biggest of the tour, the band members told the crowd. Up until recently they were known mainly by obscure music loving hipsters; while PTM released eight studio albums, they had few hits. “Woodstock,” their latest album, was their breakout — thanks in part to their hit “Feel it Still.” (If you haven’t heard it yet, you haven’t been in a grocery stores, restaurants, or coffee shops in the last couple months.)
Their new sound is drastically different from past albums such as “In the Mountain in the Cloud” and “Evil Friends.” It’s more electronic and actually less ’60s-sounding despite the inspiration coming from that era.
Founding members, bass player Zac Carothers, and vocalist/guitarist Dave Gourley, spent about half their lives together, after meeting at their high school in Wasilla, Alaska (Sarah Palin’s hometown). The band started out as a side project for Gourley but later turned into the real deal. Now with Kyle O’Quin, Eric Howk, Jason Sechrist, and Zoe Maville, the Lords of Portland — as they occasionally call themselves — have also become the lords of alt-rock.
The opening act was “Twin Peaks,” Chicago natives described by one fan in the crowd as, “a punk version of the Rolling Stones.” While they weren’t quite that (it’s a pretty hard standard to live up to) the indie punk band did not disappoint. It was their last night touring with PTM, and they certainly gave it their all. Even if you weren’t a fan of the hard to understand lyrics, you could appreciate the showmanship of Clay Frankel, one of the band’s guitarists and vocalists, who at one point picked up the microphone stand and balanced it in the air before he returned to jumping up and down energetically.
At around 9, the lights darkened, encouraging screams, hollers, and hoots from fans, and PTM came on stage. The opening song was strange, and not recognizable at first, before it morphed into “Another Brick in the Wall pt.1,” off Pink Floyd’s, “The Wall.” Between the crowd chanting, “we don’t need no education,” the imagery of an oily liquid floating around on screen, and a dazzling array of lasers and lights it was almost as vivid as Roger Waters recent tour performing “The Wall” (which is saying a lot, since that had a virtual plane crashing into the screen).
The whole thing felt very Merry Pranksters, Ken Kesey-esq and that 60’s, electric kool-aid acid vibe intensified when, “Sleep Forever,” turned into, “Hey Jude,” by the Beatles, another psychedelic throwback.
Some of that energy was about the venue itself. If you haven’t been to the Anthem, go. It’s the ideal concert venue. It’s got the feel of the 9:30 Club, but three times its size. There are three levels of high platforms above the stage, but the view isn’t that much worse from there because they’re stacked on top of each other — higher, but not farther away like the levels at the Verizon center.
At the Anthem most tickets are standing, and priced the same (for this show, $45), except for the slightly-pricier Super Excellent Seats.
The set wrapped up around 10:40 p.m. when the band left the stage, leaving behind a projection reading, “please stand by,” behind before jumping back on stage to do, “Hip Hop Kids,” and “Holy Roller,” while the crowd chanted the lyrics.
Overall the show was a memorable experience, and the lasers and throwbacks and mannequins dancing and slogans all felt gave the impression of impressive chaos, even if nothing in music can really be that chaotic anymore. The only unexpected disappointment was that they didn’t play, “Evil Friends,” but otherwise Portugal. The Man let nobody down. •
PHOTO BY MIA CHINNI