On Good Friday, hundreds gathered before a stage in downtown Phoenix in preparation for a sermon. This congregation was not of the religious type but rather a musical rejoicing.
As a part of the Jagermeister Music Tour, Portugal. The Man brought a stellar performance to a sold-out concert at the Crescent Ballroom.
After signing to Atlantic Records in 2010, the band released “In the Mountain in the Cloud,” one of its best albums to date.
Though the average listener would not have guessed, the band incurred many trials and tribulations completing it.
Bassist Zachary Carothers told The State Press, “I think just the amount of time we put into it, and honestly the struggle … This one didn’t go so smoothly to tell you the truth. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We had more time, (and) we had more resources. That really kind of screwed with ourselves a little bit.”
Having released seven albums in six years, the Portland quintet came to Phoenix for the first time in over a year as the same staple rock band that has come to be so revered by its fans. The Alaska-born rockers equally reciprocated the love the crowd showed.
Before the show, Carothers said, “We’re big fans of the desert. We always have been, actually.”
Given that the show coincided with First Friday, downtown Phoenix was bustling with scenesters out for a night of art and music. The crowd, mostly comprised of loyal fans in their mid to late 20s, seemed to know all of the words to each song.
“Cultlike” isn’t quite the word to describe the audience as it seemed like more of a family during the performance.
The concertgoers talked and raved about the band with each other during the show and took turns guessing the next song. Complete strangers laughed and sang together based on the shared passion for the band.
The anticipation for the headlining act built as soon as the doors opened at 7:00 p.m. Local outfit Snakes! Snakes! Snakes! kicked off the evening, followed by Washington band and tour opener The Lonely Forest. After three hours of build-up, the entire crowd finally exhaled in excitement when the main act took the stage.
After opening with “All of Your Light (Times Like These)” they seamlessly transitioned from song to song throughout the lengthy set. Instead of the standard setlist of recent material, frontman John Gourley picked songs from the band’s vast array of previous albums.
Usually at the Crescent Ballroom, bands simply set up their instruments on the stage, but Portgual. The Man played on an adorned stage decorated with a convoluted maze of winding luminous bulbs. The lighting combined with the fog added a key element of visual and sensory amazement to the performance.
Since Phoenix was only the fourth stop on the tour, the band was still getting a feel for the set and stage as they smiled through miscues and feedback during the performance.
Each song seemed to highlight the strengths of each instrument and musician, whether it was the drums in “Devil/Helter Skelter” or Gourley’s falsettos in “People Say” toward the end of the set.
In contrast to the typical rock band setup, Gourley was off to the side and Carothers was front and center. Carothers’s position made sense due to his pure stage presence and energy as well as his connection with the audience.
While most of the band members moved little throughout the show, Carothers used a majority of the stage while providing bass and vocals.
Though Carothers insisted that they are not a jam band, the crew did take time to elaborate on many of its songs with instrumental improvisation.
“We improvise a lot on stage. Every night is a different show for us. We have segments in our parts where we extend parts … Bottom line, we love playing music. We love doing it every day. Whether it’s in the studio, in the basement or on stage, it never really gets old for us.”
After playing for more than an hour and a half, the bearded rockers closed their performance with the tear-jerking “Sleep Forever,” which somehow managed to evolve into the entire venue sharing in the chorus of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”
After adding two more songs to the encore to cap off the night, the crowd’s jaws dropped and the pleased audience shuffled out the door.
April is usually associated with religious gatherings, and for an hour and a half on Friday night, the Crescent Ballroom served as a venue for just that.
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