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Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisWith twenty years since officially forming, it's surprising that Portishead has a mere three albums to its name and hasn't launched a proper tour in more than a decade. And while the Bristol-based band is far from prolific, its influence throughout the trip hop, downtempo and lo-fi indie rock scenes remains at an all time high.
Between that venerable place in history alongside Massive Attack and Tricky, plus the group's lengthy absence from the touring trails, Chicago's sizeable Aragon Ballroom had no trouble selling out instantaneously. For those lucky enough to get a ticket, that meant 90 minutes of ambient experimentation, draped in stunning floor to ceiling visuals to match the group's cerebral mindset.
From rising suns to television static, the giant screens made up for the shyness and low key stage presence of front woman Beth Gibbons. Even without a lot of movement (and many moments with her back to the crowd as she watched the supporting players create plenty of electro wizardry), her voice is still glorious and sometimes downright angelic.
Enchanting cuts like "Mysterons" and "Sour Times" helped showcase the sublime nature of her pipes, while abstract imagery once again served as enveloping accompaniment. Come "Machine Gun," Portishead switched to a more aggressive mindset, exploding with thundering percussion and fuzzy beat blasts. The robust pulsations continued on "Over," though the gentle ballad would've been better served in the context of personal headphone pleasure than a concert hall.
Even so, Portishead kept the performance intimate and immediate, allowing the screens to service their inner emotions and bridge the gap between the band's platform and the audience. Fans were also surely elated to catch the 2010 single "Chase the Tear," yet another example of trippy bliss that was backed by an equally important message inspired by Human Rights Day. Between that glimpse of the future and the ability for the band's '90s material to hold up without a problem, hopefully Portishead will consider the overwhelming acceptance from this tour as a catalyst to get back into the studio.
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