Depending on the traffic it can take anything from three to four hours for us to get to Cardiff, so we don't tend to go as often as we should, considering that our son has been doing his PhD at the University there. His graduation ceremony was held there on Monday 15th, so we had booked in to a Hotel for the Monday and Tuesday. On the Tuesday, as we were leaving, my wife looked on facebook and noticed that Portishead had announced that they were playing in Cardiff, on the Thursday.
Portishead are a band that both I and my wife have wanted to see for years. We had almost decided to go and see them at the Lattitude Festival, on the grounds that that might be their only UK gig in decades, but the thought of standing in a muddy swamp, a hundred miles from the stage, to see them do a reduced set, didn't appeal, so the Cardiff gig was very tempting. I felt that there was a large risk that as they had chosen to play at a University, after the students had broken up for their summer holidays, and with such short notice, there was a very good chance that if we didn’t go, then nobody else would either. And if they played to an empty house in the UK, but to packed stadia abroad, then there would be a very good chance that they would never play in the UK again.
So we drove back home from Cardiff on the Tuesday, went to work on Wednesday and blagged the rest of the week off as holiday, and then drove back again on the Thursday.
Got to the venue early, which meant we were able to get to the front of the auditorium. As such, we didn’t notice the crowd building up behind us. When we were turned round to look, the venue was absolutely heaving. Despite the short notice, it was sold out.
Between the crash barrier and the stage was a small runway for the security guards, and professional photographers. Before the concert started, a security guard filled up dozens of plastic cups with water, and lined them up along the barrier. Assumed that that meant that there would be dozens of security guards or photographers, but at the interval, the guard handed out the water to the crowd. Thought that that was a really lovely gesture.
There were three drum kits on stage, so it was fairly obvious in advance that there would be a support act. The first band came on, without any introduction, and played their material, again, without any introduction. Was quite worried at the end that we’d never find out who they were, because this was a band that I’d definitely want to see again. Managed to speak to the drummer as they cleared the stage and asked their name – Thought Forms. A bit of research, post gig, revealed that, like Portishead, they were formed in Bristol, and that they have supported Portishead a few times before. They are a trio, comprising Charlie Romijn and Deej Dhariwal both on guitars and vocals along with a variety of other instruments, and Guy Metcalfe on drums.
Charlie very much reminded me of the daughter from the Pixar film “The Incredibles”, with her long hair mostly covering her face, whereas Deej has an incredibly animated style of guitar playing, bending and writhing about the stage as if every note he played hurts.
Their music is somewhat of a cross between Avant Garde 1960’s experimental acid jazz and death metal. Fascinating to listen to. Very hypnotic. Would have liked to have known a bit more about each track that they played, (at the very least the titles) but I guess I'll just have to go and buy their albums. I am too young to have been interested in the music scene in the late Nineteen sixties when experimental bands such as Pink Floyd and Soft Machine were setting out, but Thought Forms capture that excitement, brought up to date with modern technology.
A quick turnaround and then a voice spoke out over the p.a. "Esteja alerta para as regras dos três O que você dá, retornará para você Essa lição, você tem que aprender Você só ganha o que você merece" as Portishead took to the stage.
Not sure I've ever seen quite so much technology all in one place before. They had at least four stacks of keyboards, two drum kits and a drum synthesiser, video cameras all over the stage, feeding images into some form of video mixer that added speical effects and projected the result to a screen behind them, along with lighting, dry ice, banks of guitars, microphones and who knows what else. Must have taken a huge amount of effort to set it all up, and balance the lighting as well as the sound. At many gigs you notice that the musicians have a set list, with added hand written notes, such as which key the songs are in, or which fret to place the capo, etc. At this gig, even the cameraman had a set list with handwritten notes!
They played for about an hour and a half, without an interval, and, like Thought Forms, Beth Gibbons gave no introductions to the songs, but most people there knew them all anyway. The majority of the songs came from Portishead's third album "Three", though, I think they got the louder cheers for their earlier songs.
Hugely impressed with the lighting and the projected backdrop. Don't think I've ever seen a performance like it from any band, but I did wonder at times whether it did actually detract from the music. During "The Rip", they projected a cartoon behind them, and I suddenly noticed that I was concentrating on the video rather than listening to the music. And, believe me, the music is well worth listening to. It is complex, hypnotic, rousing, stirring, emotional, and characterised by Beth's voice, which she uses more as an instrument than as a means to convey lyrics.
My favorite track was "Wandering Star". Two chairs were brought on to the stage, and most of the musicians left. Beth and the bassist sat facing eachother, with the guitarist still standing. The guitar was used to make ethereal noises, but the musical lead was taken by the bass. The effect overall was magical.
Come to that, the whole evening was magical.
We Carry On
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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