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· 16 April 2008 ·

Portishead, Corn Exchange Edinburgh - 12/04/2008

I was fortunate enough to get hold of some tickets for Portishead’s gig at the Corn exchange.

“And it’s only you, who can turn my wooden heart.”

Only few bands have been able to touch me as much as Portishead. Beth Gibbons ability to write highly emotional lyrics without sounding pathetic. (as it often happens with other artists) Oh, how I have cried to their songs, how I hid underneath the duvet. I have listened to their songs at lonely night walks, after relationship break-ups and generally when there was something to moan about. The live version of Wandering Star still makes me shiver. “Please could you stay awhile to share my grief/For it’s such a lovely day/To have to always feel this way/And the time that I will suffer less/Is when I never have to wake.” If I had a list of all the things I need to do in my life, up to the 12 April 2008 there would be an item reading “see Portishead live” and I guess it would be quite high up, maybe number 27. But apart from my personal life there are many other reasons why this band matters. They have minted the 90’s sound and are still one of the most important Trip-Hop bands together with their town-mates Massive Attack. Adrian Utley’s intuition for fine samples and the combination of Jazz-like smoothness with Geoff Barrow’s Western-style guitars and Gibbon’s gloomy vocals created a sound that was unique for the band and many others tried to copy.

“Been searching, but I have never seen…”

But after only two albums (and an orchestral adaptation of their work) they disappeared from the surface of the earth, with their members getting involved in various projects, of which Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man’s album “Autumn Leaves” is probably the most notable one. Rumours of a new Portishead album have since been floating about, but after almost a decade of silence it seemed as if the band more or less silently ceased to exist. There were many false alarms, rumours etc, but the band essentially seemed to be dead.

“Stranger things will come your way…”

Then the surprise in 2006: Acoustic gig with Massive Attack, but no new songs. Then in 2007 a mysterious myspace page appeared: portisheadalbumthree. Someone put samples on it, nothing resembling full songs, but an announcement was made: Yes, this is the official Portishead site and there will be an album soon. A date was announced, but many fans still had their doubts. But the sceptics seemed to be mistaken. Portishead played at the ATP Festival and also presented some new songs.

“A thousand flowers could bloom…”

At the beginning of the gig we were given a little thing which looked like a circuit board and turned out to be a small usb stick containing a 40 second video clip. This is nice but even nicer would be a full track. I hope I am not expecting too much of today’s music industry, but please don’t tease us like that!

The gig opened with “A Hawk and a Hacksaw”, a gypsy-style band with crazy, high speed brass and violins. At first this choice seemed to be odd, but then appeared to be most natural. A Hawk and a Hacksaw deliver a unique sound that does not compete with Portishead’s and thus stands out on its own, which the audience really appreciated and probably preferred over a mediocre Trip-Hop or one of the ten-thousand so-called Indie bands that seem to be so fashionable nowadays.

Portishead on stage is a unique experience. The band opened with the first track from their new album – “Silence”, the samples being played when the band entered the stage. The track – although only known by those who have gotten the track from the Internet – already built up an enormous atmosphere that would remain for the entire gig. Although Beth Gibbons was slightly tipsy during the gig, her voice was enormously intense and energetic. The set list was a good mixture of old and new songs. Compared to the previous two albums, Portishead’s new tracks are much rougher and harder to listen to. Those fans who expected the old Trip Hop feeling, will be disappointed. But for those who love Beth’s lyrics and melancholy will enjoy them. There is still not a single happy song. But it seems that the band has put all energy into making the tracks as radio unfriendly as possible. The old songs however still have the grove, except for the live version of Wandering Star, which is much down tempo and tense than the original on “Dummy”, which in my opinion suits the lyrics much better.

“Fully fed yet I still hunger…”

Now, at the end of the day I cross out item no. 27. And add a new one, no. 3842: See Portishead again. Now, please would you stay a while to share my grief?

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