Portishead – Vector Arena Nov. 10, 2011

The last time Portishead played in Auckland singer Beth Gibbons left the stage bleeding, but triumphant. That was in April of 1998. Since then, the band has released just one album, 2008’s Third, but what an album it is. Now, Gibbons, along with guitarist Adrian Utley and keyboard player/percussionist Geoff Barrow return to Auckland, this time to the Vector Arena. No blood was spilled this time around, but Portishead did prove that there is much more to them than nostalgia for the 1990s.

Accompanied by hired hands John Baggot (keyboards), Jim Barr (bass) and Clive Deamer (drums), the trio started the night with three songs from Third…and epic-sounding Silence, the ethereal Hunter which was punctuated by Utley’s distorted guitar and Nylon Smile.

Beth Gibbons was front and center, but shared the stage visually with a large video screen projected behind the band, with a combination of pre-recorded and live images morphing in and out.

The real meat of the show kicked in with the space-age Mysterons, from 1994’s Dummy, followed by a gently discordant The Rip…one of the highlights of the night. The enthusiastic audience then showed their immediate pleasure at the opening strains of Sour Times, again from Dummy.

The band alternated between Third and Dummy most of the evening with two songs featured from 1997’s Portishead album, Over and Cowboys. The latter featuring some sternum-rattling bottom end.

Other crowd favourites included a quiet, almost eerie reading of Wandering Star, performed by the three while seated. It was followed by an ominously fierce version of Machine Gun. The regular set closed with another tune from Third, the tension-filled and somewhat terrifying Threads.

The band returned to the stage with Roads, featuring a delicate and vulnerable vocal from Gibbons, before closing with an eight-minute version of We Carry On that built up to an glorious, noisy crescendo.

Portishead managed to keep those fans who wanted to relive the glory days of the 90s happy, along with those who were there to hear the new material. There wasn’t much banter from the band to the audience and, aside from the 2009 benefit single, Chase The Tear, there was no new music that might indicate what the next album might sound like. But, never mind, Beth Gibbons was in great voice and the band played with plenty of passion.

Marty Duda

Portishead set list

  1. Silence
  2. Hunter
  3. Nylon Smile
  4. Mysterons
  5. The Rip
  6. Sour Times
  7. Magic Doors
  8. Wandering Star
  9. Machine Gun
  10. Over
  11. Glory Box
  12. Chase The Tear
  13. Cowboys
  14. Threads
  15. Roads
  16. We Carry On