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Portugal. The Man shows IHEG a good time

Sarah Palin has given Americans the wrong idea about Alaska. Not everyone that hails from Wasilla is a baby-popping hockey mom. In fact, some of them play music.

Portugal. The Man, mad scientists of the musical world, had the potential to single-handedly redeem the state with last Wednesday’s performance at Northampton’s Pearl Street Clubroom. Equipped with a cavalry of guitars, strings, keyboards and harmonies, the Wasilla natives were out to defend their home with their alternative rock artillery.

The band has a reputation for breathtaking live shows, which brought out a substantial number of fans for a weekday night. With all this hype, there were great expectations in the air that night.

Portugal’s current cross-country tour is in support of their latest release “The Satanic Satanist.” The prolific young band has released a grand total of four full-length albums and a fifth acoustic record within their mere three years of fame.

The Wednesday show was part of Iron Horse Entertainment Group’s “Left of the Dial: Brave New Music” series, which showcases such up-and-comers as White Rabbits and Múm, Iceland’s post rock collective.

Opening the evening, Cambridge quartet Drug Rug warmed up the crowd with a hearty round of four part harmonies in the key of folk.

The multitalented band showcased their talent as they switched positions and instruments throughout the set. They kicked the night off right with the promise of innovative independent music.

Next to bat was Hockey, a band born from 80’s dance beats and incessantly catchy lyrics. Hailing from Portland Ore., the band combined synthesizers, funky bass grooves and even a little Dylan-esque harmonica to produce what was certainly a highlight of the evening.

The band walked out of the venue with a throng of new followers, peddling its recent release, “Mind Chaos” at the merchandising booth.

When Portugal finally took the stage after a significant delay, the crowd was more than ready. Followers were not put off by the wait, however, merely amusing themselves with a massive Animal Collective sing-along.  

The members of Portugal looked as if they were stolen from a bygone decade, adorned in handlebar mustaches and vintage sweaters. Complete with flashing colors and trippy canvases, the stoner shtick seemed a little overdone.

That said, Portugal has always had a reputation for the unconventional. Much of the band’s oddities stem from singer and guitarist John Gourley’s unusual Alaskan upbringing. The artist resided in a log cabin powered only by a generator and without a telephone.

The band began with some of its older material, performing “Stables and Chairs” from their 2006 debut, “Waiter: ‘You Vultures.’” While the sound mixing wasn’t ideal, they managed to bang out the tune with practiced ease.

One of Portugal’s brightest moments came in the form of Three Dog Night’s “One.” The band tackled the number one single with its own refreshing twist.

It was at this moment that the seams began to show, however.

Halfway through the performance, overzealous fans in the front row began the smoking of a certain green substance, ending in the collapse of one audience member.

Portugal seemed unfazed, perhaps blind to the incident from the stage lights, as the young man was escorted out of the clubroom.

The group played on as the front rows recovered, performing the new single “Everyone is Golden” from “The Satanic Satanist.” The tune is a lesson in Portugal’s influences, paying clear homage to the Beatles.

The crowd sang along whole-heartedly to the surprisingly cheery chorus of, “Everyone is golden/ Nobody will love them.”

“And I” from the album “Censored Colors” was another redeeming moment of the evening. The song started out slowly in the acoustic vein and approached harder-hitting guitars riffs with cat-like stealth, all topped off with rich harmonies.

Portugal. The Man did not introduce songs, nor did they engage with the audience at any point, but the oversight seemed excusable. The band knew that they were there to play music and did just that.

As a whole, the show was stunning on the music front, but the atmosphere upset what could have been a truly great performance.

If Portugal peeled away some of the flashing lights and hype, they would be golden. These distractions only hid the band’s talent behind clichés.

Angela Stasiowski can be reached at astasiow@student.umass.edu.

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