Since releasing their first record in 2006, Portugal. the Man have gone from indie-rock darlings to full-blown stadium-packing rockstars. Their show at Red Rocks on Wednesday proved their suitability for the big stage. During their roughly 90-minute set the crew self-described as the “lords of Portland” ran through covers, classics and material from their 2017 album Woodstock. The group reinterpreted material from across their eight albums, turning otherwise lighter tracks into sprawling, heavy, psychedelic jams.
San Francisco-based garage-punk outfit Oh Sees opened the evening. Their set was a raucous display of frantic energy filtered through psychedelic, punk and noise rock stylings. The two drummers playing almost identical patterns were fun to watch, but the fact that they only occasionally deviated into different arrangements made the doubling up seem a bit overblown. Vocalist John Dwyer bounced around the stage wildly, working the microphone with a great deal of passion. The band’s dense and aggressive sonics set the tone for the evening, letting the audience know that this would not be a tender or sentimental night on the rocks.
When Portugal took the stage slightly after 9 p.m. they opened with a medley of Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall,” which they adeptly managed to transition into their acclaimed hit “Purple Yellow Red and Blue.” The group’s set continued to employ dynamic transitions involving both their own and borrowed material. The continuous flow of the music kept the scene escalating.
A Native American tribal leader opened the set with him and his two daughters all speaking on behalf of indigenous rights and female empowerment. Too few groups use their platform to address serious issues — and Portugal’s decision to do so prior to a full set of uninterrupted music kept their good intentions from detracting from the show. The well-thought-out staging made the impact of the message all the stronger.
The band’s imagery — projected onto the rocks behind the stage — was colorful and amorphous with distinctly dark undertones. Lead singer John Gourley wore a jacket with a similar aesthetic and a hat outfitted with satanic horns that were almost bovine in their girth. The music featured all the bright pop elements that have been instrumental in their success, but there was a wickedness lurking just behind the curtains. Some of the band’s strongest moments were when they allowed the beast to peek out — growling guitars and aggressive riffs setting the vibe.
Of the many quotes, they displayed in block letters, the opening slide, “We’re not very good at stage banter so here are some statements from our management,” was the most telling. The tone was varied. Amidst the visuals, tongue in cheek slides like, “We are Portugal. the Man, just making sure you’re at the right concert,” were interspersed with a quote from Malcolm X. Interludes always veered towards the infernal — the juxtaposition between the Black Sabbath-like descents and the Grammy-winning pop of “Feel it Still” nicely illustrated their dual aesthetic.
All the crowd was well-dressed, but a few tees really stood out. A shirt reading “Keep Oregon Secret,” with Colorado brightly highlighted on the US map was a nice crack favoring the band’s home state. At least three members of the audience were wearing shirts that read “I liked Portugal the Man before they sold out.” Whether the wearer was sporting it in ironic fashion or not, the punk-rock desire to decry the group’s success and favor their old material was definitely shared by a portion of the audience.
The encore was a medley of “Sleep Forever” and the Beatle’s “Hey Jude” — the inevitable sing-along was immense from the sold-out crowd. For a band of this caliber to devote so much of their set to covers is unusual, but the unique spin they put on all the music breathed life into even the most well-worn tracks. The show concluded shortly after 11 p.m., with the sold-out crowd filing out into the night, filled with the odd mixture of joy and depravity that has always been rock.