Have the holidays got you down? Are you sick and tired of all the happy folks that are loose in the streets this time of year? Looking for a little coal in your stocking, maybe? Then Portishead is the band for you.
All roads lead to heartache and misery in the world of Portishead, a so-called trip-hop band formed (supposedly) for the sole purpose of the members being able to get out of the bland English hamlet where they live, for which the group is named. So why then is the band, which combines elements of hip-hop, jazz and torch, so damn bland, and so pretentious?
Portishead’s two albums make for good at-home music, for those times when you need to be reassured that somewhere out there, someone is having a more difficult time of it than you. But in the context of a rock concert, as at the packed Palladium, the group’s sad-sack stylings come off as sorrowful laments that serve neither to soothe nor to inspire.
Singer-lyricist Beth Gibbons has a lovely soprano, capable of haunting and moving expression; further, her lyrics are of a deeply personal bent not generally heard in popular music. But her stage presence is nil, preventing Portishead from taking the music to the next level.
Motionless at her microphone stand, eyes perpetually closed, Gibbons relied on her voice to carry the show, while the rest of the group created sluggish, jazzy themes that were better suited for a smoky, downstairs club than for an large echo chamber like the Palladium. But her substantial pipes were far from enough at this show.
Occasionally, Gibbons would laugh or swing her arms, or a bandmate would tear off a particularly biting guitar line, like on “Glory Box,” and the crowd would begin to react, seeming to urge them on toward more stirring efforts.
But just like two years ago, when Portishead made its L.A. debut amid a ton of industry hype at a dreadful Legion Hall show, the energy and passion were never to arrive.