Concert review: Portugal. The Man (with the Lonely Forest and Union Tree Review) psych out the Pageant, Sunday, April 29
Last night, St. Louis hosted Portugal. The Man on its first major headlining tour. But this was no normal tour. Its sponsor, Jägermeister, was everywhere, complete with a DJ spinning for the set-changes and the all-important Jäger girls strutting about the Pageant in tight leather, handing out freebies and other swag.
St. Louis’s own Union Tree Review opened the evening with a studied set that featured muted trumpet, violin and a post-rock, indie feel, like Cursive with a spritz of Cymbals Eat Guitars. Union Tree Review’s interest in sweeping dynamic shifts and bombastic drops worked well with lead-singer Tawaine Noah’s vocals, which, even though a bit strained, reminded me of younger, more angsty Ben Gibbard.
From Anacortes, Wash., the Lonely Forest churned out poppy, shoe-gaze rock. Their care and precision was impressive and lent their set a certain professional feel that Union Tree Review’s performance lacked. I noted a light tinge of Jimmy Eat World during “Turn Off This Song and Go Outside,” from 2011′s “Arrows.”
Portugal. The Man appeared on a stage full of atomic-like lighting elements that were also strung up and anchored from the center of the ceiling above the pit. The strings of lights with a bobble housing LEDs looked like swimming lane buoys ripper from a J Crew advert. As the first chords of “All Your Light (Times Like These),” from 2011′s “In the Mountain in the Cloud,” the buoy-looking lights glowed with psychedelic greens and blues. John Gourley’s vocals rang out, clear and high-pitched, as they elegantly drifted from a falsetto to a chanted chorus.
“The Woods,” from 2009′s “The Satanic Santanist,” featured lilting guitar and spaced-out keys. Sadly, the stage remained dark for the majority of the set — the only light illuminating the band came from the trippy, glowing installations, which caused a bit of a disconnect, as they obscured the audience’s sightlines preventing a clear look at the band.
“Work All Day” had the audience dancing and jiving throughout venue. The tempo ran fast compared to the album version, but the song did not suffer from the faster treatment, instead, it allowed the annunciation of the rapid-fire chorus lyrics to stand out.
“Shade,” “Floating (Time Isn’t Working My Side),” and “The Sun” came and went without much interest or power from the band or audience. It was as if the band were simply going through the motions engaging in hapless jam after jam. To make matters worse, the staccato, strobing lights (and buoys) seemed to be taking a toll on the audience, who, every now and then, rubbed their eyes, blinked hard, or excused themselves entirely. I wondered how the band could perform night after night in such a headache-inducing atmosphere.
Portugal. The Man got back in the groove with “Got It All (This Can’t Be Living Now).” Bassist Zachary Carothers danced wildly and offered up nimble fingerwork before the hook, while Gourley’s voice slid over the chorus. His falsetto made for some serious “wow” moments and conjured comparisons to “Sgt. Pepper”-era Beatles.
Soon, Portugal. The Man wound down their set with “Sleep Forever.” Synthesizers emulated a cello for a fancy string arrangement. Toward the end of the final chorus, the band transitioned into a cover of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” The moment was golden and singular, and incited a surprised Pageant to cheer with glee, as the hanging buoys glowed orange and red.
Portugal. The Man didn’t leave the stage for their encore, instead, they jumped right into “And I,” from 2008′s “Censored Colors” after “Hey Jude.” The quiet, introductory guitar was a tad underwhelming after the energy of “Hey Jude,” but as with the entire evening, Portugal. The Man made it worthwhile with magnificent harmonies, body-jolting hooks and provocative psychedelics.