As part of a Jagermeister Music Tour, Alaska’s Portugal. The Man rolled into a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg on a balmy April evening. The hall is ideal, a shallow room with a wide stage, there are huge baubles draped across it and out over the crowd. There’s an upstairs bar, a downstairs bar, balconies each side and plenty of room for just hanging out before the gig as well as a big merch area where every album by the band was on sale on vinyl and cd.
The crowd pour in slowly during the catchy jangle of the support band, The Lonely Forest, and there’s a cooling breeze running through the warm room. Right from the off, as the baubles pop to life, the five-piece get straight into ’All Your Light’, no teasing, all action. With the vocals shared heavily between the two frontmen John Gourley is tucked away to the left of the stage but the more energetic Zachary Carothers cuts a fine figure of energy center-stage. Coupled with the dancing lights, the mood is like turning the switch for ’Friday’ from off to on.
Three songs in and ’So American’ starts with some seemingly mis-timed drums but soon recovers to hands-in-the-air levels. With the main singing in ’So American’ being done by Gourley on the dark left side, there’s something missing from the spectacle but you could not fault the energy firing from stage to crowd, and these levels were only just beginning to climb. ’Devil’ quickly turns into something seemingly familiar and soon we’re knee-deep in The Beatles’ ’Helter Skelter’, ripped apart, reconstructed and put on steroids. It sonically tears the house down and it is really, really loud. Proper order.
And on it goes. There’s hardly a break taken to tune guitars, and no energy-sapping chatty bits in-between, they careered through 20 songs and were sometimes drowned out by the fired-up crowd especially as ’Sleep Forever’ closed the set twisting into the final chorus of ’Hey Jude’ which sparked a rapturous sing-along. The crowd here are givers, singing as much as they can, piled in around the front and punching the air till the blood runs out of their arms, they are perhaps 51% of the gig. A cheery stage-diver is safely caught while security remain sensibly invisible.
Coming back for one more (that’s how to do an encore, kids. Put everything into a 19 song set then, if they reeeeallly want it,have one more song up the sleeve) the pace is calmed somewhat with ’And I’. While the band are closing off, in a most surreal episode, a grey-bearded skinny dude walks his way through the crowd past us heading for the back with a large plate of fresh cheese and grapes out in front of him. It’s a look-at-the-guy-beside-you-to-see-if-that-really-happened moment.
Leaving on a high it’s now time for the bars of Willamsburg or the L train to soak up the parting crowd on the night the locals call 20-4, an unofficial day of the stoner by all accounts. A glorious Friday show, the humming of ’Helter Skelter’ saw us all the way home.
Photos by Sean O’Kane