Portishead at the Brixton Academy

How can it feel, this wrong?

From this moment,

How can it feel, this wrong?

The only thing that feels wrong about this is the secret, guilty pleasure of being privileged to hear another set from the wonder that is Portishead.

Portishead in lights at the brixton AcademyHaunted . . . fragile . . . agonized . . . achingly beautiful. All adjectives that could and should be used to describe Beth Gibbons’ delicate vocals. The last time I heard them in the flesh, sending shivers down my spine and bringing goosebumps up on my arms, was at Glastonbury 95. That was the year that Robbie ran away from Take That only to turn up, orange haired, on stage with Oasis. Some of my friends from today were at that festival, but none of us knew each other. I can picture some kind of 4-dimensional space-time grid mapped out, with our lines intersecting at that moment, before spiralling back together many years later. Completing the map (in which the three dimensions of space have been collapsed into one, for clarity) it shows I went to the gig with Eddie from college.4d spacetime jouney to Portishead gigs

1995 was also the year, in the biggest Glastonbury crush I have ever experienced, we rightly booed Evan Dando, ex of The Lemonheads, mercilessly for an hour in the acoustic tent before he finally took the hint and made way for Portishead’s triumphal set.

It’s always disappointing when whoever’s fronting a band doesn’t interact with their audience. At worst, at least you always hope to get a grudging “thank you” when the applause dies down, but I expect witty banter, delivered with a swagger. With Beth we had nothing, nichts, rien, zilch. It didn’t matter for a moment – it was perfectly in keeping with the performance. For this isn’t just music – it’s Portishead’s music. And it’s nothing short of fine art, transporting the listener to heights we could never otherwise hope to reach. The closest I’ve heard anyone else approach it, but from a very different angle, was Toronto’s The Dears.

Portishead at the Brixton AcademyBeth quivered and quavered throughout, with a black and white (naturally) backdrop of video from the set. The Brixton Academy already has the best views of any mid-size venue and this only enhanced them. I’ve saved the first ever video on this blog for Roads, the second track of the encore. I’d say it’s my favourite, but as wonderful song after yet another wonderful song soared around me, I realized how magnificently crafted each was in its own way. But here’s Roads:

At the end of it all, painfully early at only 10.50pm (could the band not have played for forty minutes more?), Beth finally spoke to us. She apologized for her singing, saying how awful it had been all night. She told us to look forward to next time when she would be far better. How can you improve on perfection? We’re privileged that this prodigal band has returned. If you have the chance, you must go and hear them in person. After Beth’s closing words, I cannot wait for next time.
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~ by keithmansfield on April 18, 2008.

3 Responses to “Portishead at the Brixton Academy”

  1. Hey Keith, I saw Portishead last week and am seeing Twisted Wheel next. Are we living parallel lives?! Anyway, I’ve added text to my blog http://thefallenblog.blogspot.com as requested, although am being very careful not to give too many games away 🙂

  2. Thanks for the killer review!!

  3. Great Post Kieth.
    Although I recognise how great Portishead are, I can’t really listen to them. It makes me feel un-easy, nervous almost. And I have to swtich CD’s after a few minutes. I guess that illustrates the power of their art… Music that changes the way the listener feels.

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