Pop Music Review: Portugal. The Man Inspires Its Own Nationalism

Portugal. The Man is nothing if not a paradox—the band is nostalgically avant-garde.

By Michela Smith

Portugal. The Man

I ventured into Portugal. The Man’s performance on Saturday at Allston’s Paradise Rock Club feeling rather alone.

Drowning in the hordes of fans devoted to this rising band, I managed to stay afloat by keeping in mind one previous listen to their most experimental album, Censored Colors. As the five took the stage to howling applause, I listened, and now write this review, as a critical spectator rather than an audience member—a subtle distinction but a significant division within the crowd.

And this is what I spectated:

Paradoxically, Portugal. The Man (P.TM) is nostalgically avant-garde. Granted, many bands attempt to duplicate the majesty of their musical influences while still creating a unique sound. Yet, it seems that P.TM incorporates a nostalgically avant-garde ideology into every aspect of their performance.

P. TM at The Paradise. The band gives great light show. Photo: Michela Smith

P.TM’s stage decorations physically embody this ideology perfectly. Fantastically futuristic orbs of light, which recalled the set design of 50’s B Movies, draped the rafters of Paradise Rock Club. Linked in a pearl necklace-like pattern, the innumerable globes winked as if alive, reflecting the shine and sweat of the band.

Even more powerful emblems of P.TM’s nostalgically avant-garde style—the group’s Gretsch guitars. The latter are famous because they were the kind used by Chet Atkins and John Lennon. The Gretsch guitars rested against state-of-the-art pedals. But, of course, it was the music that emerged from said instruments that best embodied their juxtaposed style.

P.TM paired simple, folksy guitar with groovy lead guitar layered in effects. Ethereal vocals marked of contemporary indie backed strong melodies reminiscent of 60’s pop. Clean drum punches matched congas and experimental drum pads. P.TM maintained the gentle austerity of polished performers while occasionally indulging in grungy, delinquent musicianship. They wove their modern work with homage covers to The Beatles, Mott the Hoople, and Oasis. I didn’t know any of P.TM’s song titles, but I knew that they combined past and present. I could feel it.

Sensing the unification too, the sardined audience responded with quintessential crowd convention—moshing and crowd surfing. I was terrified and, despite my attempts to escape, I was shuffled back and forth across the Paradise as the crowd jived to Portugal. The Man’s rhythm. Despite my previous skepticism, Portugal. The Man had sucked me into the audience.

And so, the nostalgically avant-garde grooves chain-linked all of us together, our luminescence (i.e. sweat) reflecting off and winking to the globes that hung above.

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  1. SSL on October 24, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Excellent and accurate description of P. TM’s performances. Thank you! I’m ready for the next show!

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