ACL Live Shot: Portugal the Man

Conflicting impulses – faith and frustration

The Man – from Portland, not Portugal
The Man – from Portland, not Portugal
photo by Sandy Carson

Portugal the Man trades on excess and epic post-glam jams that confound as much as they groove. The Portland, Ore., quintet constructs its own cosmos, with ambiguous ethos to match.

Saturday’s late-afternoon ACL set spared none of the exorbitance, but also threatened to become lost in the schizophrenic shifts and roller coaster right turns from trilling upbeat melodies to barrages of distortion.

With the set bookended by the techno-fantasy of “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” – opened in a 13-minute jam and closed in singalong fashion – the hour-long excursion felt like a winding acid trip amid competing attentions. The propulsive title track from new album Evil Friends juxtaposed the soaring “So American” from 2011 breakout In the Mountain In the Cloud, while “People Say” and “The Sun” dug deep with a lighter sway that offset the biting new tunes of “Atomic Man” and “Hip Hop Kids.”

Though the band was short on banter, they loosened with the anthemic “Modern Jesus” and “Got It All (This Can’t Be Living Now)” and the staccato punch of “Creep in a T-Shirt.”

The glory of Portugal the Man lies in that ambivalence between faith and frustration; the communal and the self-sufficient. It’s an inner struggle that continually bursts in the rousing, contradicting impulses to both eschew and embrace, with vulnerability exposed in the reaching vocals and buried again in the pomposity of arrangements.

As the conflicting mantras of “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” declare: “I just wanna be evil” and “All that I needed is something to believe in.”

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