Portugal. The Man, Telekinesis & Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Day 2 @ Bluebird Theater

Under normal circumstances, this is not a show I would have attended.  Portugal. The Man is one of those bands that I enjoy well enough and I would even go as far as saying I really liked 2009‘s The Satanic Satanist, but they arn’t a band I would go out of my way to see live.  And although I’ve heard great things about Telekinesis,  I have always found Lerner‘s output boring.  But there was a third band on this bill, a band that has been coming up more and more in the past few weeks, Unknown Mortal Orchestra.  So when I was offered free tickets to the show, I figured ‘why the hell not’.  My wife and I were looking to get out and a few friends decided to join us and if the show wasn’t any good we’d find something else to do.   We walked into the venue on Colfax right at 9pm and we didn’t leave until the headliners had finished their encore at 12:30am.  This was one of those great experiences, one of those rare nights when every band shattered any preconceived image I had of them.  One of those nights when every band was worth the trip down to The Bluebird.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra are a young trio from Portland with roots in New Zealand.  They took the stage at promptly 9pm and at first I was underwhelmed.  They played some fuzzy ‘psychedelic freak-out‘ jams with the vocal buried too deep in the mix.  But it didn’t take long for them to differentiate themselves from the hundreds of other bands that fail to be Black Mountain or The Black Angels.  Once they got into their groove and shed their awkwardness (if you have drugs, we’ll take them), they showcased their range…a range that took us from Sabbath-meets-The Dead psychedelia to full on punk rock to beach pop.  Sometimes Wavves came to mind, sometimes Sebadoh (as my buddy pointed out) but before I could lock on to that thought, Ruban Nielson (of The Mint Chicks) would start singing like he was born for the blues.  This hodgepodge cacophony of musical stew might sound like a big hot mess, but somehow it works in the hands of these kids from Oregon.  I am looking forward to their debut album and their headlining show at Larimer Lounge next month and I would bet a pair of tickets to their next show that they will be headlining The Bluebird next year.  I’m just hoping as they do get famous, they don’t really start taking their clothes off during the last song!

What sucks about not knowing a band’s material is that you don’t know what song to record. Don’t judge this band by the video above, there were much better songs in their 40 min set.

Telekinesis

Michael Benjamin Lerner is Telekinesis.  He is from Seattle and he makes indie rock.  This is straight indie rock, something that is hard to come by these days when we have 50 sub-sub genres for every style out there.  On record, I can’t find anything to like about Telekinesis.  It doesn’t suck, but it doesn’t rock.  The lyrics don’t grab me.  I just find it slightly boring.  But I have heard from multiple people, people whom I respect, that Telekinesis is a great live show. So here we were, an hour into our night and Telekinesis took the stage and systemically broke down every idea I had of this band.  Telekinesis is a touring trio with Lerner on drums and vocal and flanked on each side by a guitarist and bassist.  I am a sucker for anyone who can play drums and sing at the same time, but to do it at 5,280 feet with a shot in one hand made me regret every negative thought I had about this guy.  They played a 40 min energy packed set of a bunch song I’ve heard before but was hearing again for the first time.  Changing up lyrics to give props to Denver, slamming naked hippie shots (the special that night) and even bringing a girl on stage to sing with them, this was a great set from a band I still won’t listen to on my iPod, but will recommend to anyone with the opportunity to catch a live show.

Once again, not a highlight of the night, but the best I could do.

Portugal. The Man

Two hours into our night and everyone was feeling good.  A nice buzz, some unexpectedly enjoyable music and good friends.  The house was packed and I was thinking even if the headliners sucked, the night would have still been a success.  Although after talking to a girl who had seen them at The Fillmore in San Francisco last week, I couldn’t help but believe they were going to put on a good set.  But nothing prepared me for what was to follow.  The lights when down just before 11pm and the small venue immediately filled with fog.  The shadows emerged on the stage through a haze created by the machines and marijuana.  It was hard to make out the figures on stage, but one thing was for sure, these were not the long haired hippies I expected.  In fact, John Gourley was more hipster than hippie and did not take his hood off his head the entire night.  Sure, they had lasers that rival a Pink Floyd experience and the psychedelic jam sessions would present themselves from time to time, but these Alaskan/Oregonians are not that easy to pigeonhole.  For every instrumental jam, you had a perfectly performed pop song.  For every pop song, you had a melancholy indie rock track.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if they performed a cover of Drops of Jupiter follow by Stairway to Heaven without a hint of irony.  These are talented musicians who are fearless when it comes to crossing boundaries.  At one point I thought ‘this is what The Antlers would be if they rocked‘ but then the slight dub beat would roll off the stage and Sublime would come to mind and throw me into a tailspin again.  Once again, this might not sound like a good thing, but somehow it works for these guys as was proved by an absolutely packed house for their second night in a row.

Portugal. The Man might  not be hip enough for the hipsters and not hippie enough for the jam crowd.  They might be too small to play the big venues, but they can sell out two nights at the small ones.  And instead of falling through the cracks between more established or categorizable bands, they spread themselves across the independent rock spectrum and continue to gain fans and momentum with their impressive live show.  I know they gained at least 6 new fans last night.