Michael Buckner | Frazer Harrison, Getty Images Now this is a collaboration that…
- Posted on Oct 2nd 2011 11:00AM by Kenneth Partridge
Nick Pickles, WireImage
Sure, he looked funny, getting all physical during 'Machine Gun' -- a far less explosive tune than the title implies -- but he must have been on to something. During 'We Carry On,' the second of two encore songs, lead singer Beth Gibbons followed suit, flinging herself into the welcome arms of fans she'd just spent 90 minutes hypnotizing. Or had she done something more?
"You're having sex with my ears, and I love it," one dude shouted earlier in the evening, right after Portishead's best-known tune, 'Sour Times.' Curators of this year's ATP festival, the British band capped day two with a slinky, beguilingly sexy set -- its first on the East Coast in more than a decade -- combining the minimalist throb of trip-hop with the jazzy cool of '60s James Bond themes.
Prior to her stage dive, Gibbons was sultry, stoic and seemingly too moved by the music to, well, move. On 'Glory Box,' one of many standouts, the guitars rang out like question marks, echoing the uncertainty in Gibbons' pleading vocals, while mastermind Geoff Barrow's turntable scratches jumbled the sonic punctuation, giving the whole thing an air of steely assuredness.
Speaking of steely assuredness, there was plenty be found in the music of Ultramagnetic MCs, who performed in Asbury's Convention Hall just before Portishead. Live hip-hop is always a hit-or-miss proposition, but rappers Ced Gee, TR Love and Kool Keith brought the old-school showmanship, placing the focus more on their tight rhymes and vocal interplay than on the pop hooks that have come to dominate the genre.
There were few pop hooks to be had an hour earlier as the Pop Group played next door at the Paramount Theater, offering a different type of throwback sound. Born in the post-punk '70s, the British group is still going strong with skronky, dubbed-out approximations of dance music.
"We're not really a sit-down kind of band," lead singer Mark Stewart said, and indeed, as the group moved through the likes of 'Thief of Fire,' hammering their square-peg intellectualism into the round-hole grooves of funk and soul music, the audience rose to its feet, unsure of how to dance but willing to give it a shot.
Battles presented a similar conundrum, as their thunderous electro-prog tunes bore straight through listeners' bodies, knocking everyone off of their centers of gravity. The New York City trio is missing a lead singer, following the departure last year of Tyondai Braxton, but it's less of a detriment than might be expected. As multi-instrumentalist Ian Williams dialed in canned vocals, drummer John Stanier proved the star attraction, beating out live rhythms to complement the pre-recorded ones. For dramatic effect, he positioned his crash cymbal high atop its stand, six or seven feet in the air, making it necessary for him to reach for each hit.
Like tortoises to Batttles' hare, the Horrors eschewed dynamic shifts during their no-less-thrilling afternoon set. Once a teeth-gnashing Birthday Party-style goth-garage band, the U.K. quintet has morphed into a synth-heavy shoegaze outfit -- a transformation that suits them surprisingly well. On opener 'Changing the Rain,' from the excellent new 'Skying' album, frontman Faris Badwan effectively sang a bloody valentine to major influence Echo and the Bunnymen, while his bandmates worked up the sugary drone they would sustain for the next hour.
It was bewitching stuff, but had Badwan pulled a Beth Gibbons and tried leaping from the stage, he might not have been so lovingly received.