After kicking off the trip (and bringing the house down) at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in New Jersey over the weekend, the group made their triumphant return to New York City last night at Manhattan's Hammerstein Ballroom. While the stop in New York wasn't technically their first destination of the tour, the general anticipation and thunderous applause throughout the set made it feel like it was.
When the house lights went down at 9:30PM, a giant white "P" appeared on the projector screen on stage. Soon after, Beth Gibbons, Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley came out, immediately breaking into the opening track off 'Third,' the group's critically acclaimed (although, to be honest, all of their records are critically acclaimed) album from 2008.
For the next hour-and-a-half, the trio –– accompanied by three additional session musicians –– ripped through a mix of tracks spanning their entire catalog. Starting out with 'Silence' and 'Hunter' from 'Third,' moving on to 'Mysterons' from their debut record 'Dummy,' going to 'Cowboys' from their 1997 eponymous LP and coming back to 'Third' for 'The Rip,' each song was, frankly, jaw-dropping to witness live. Everything was perfectly mixed and Gibbons' voice came through crystal clear as if the band were recording material in the comfort of their own studio.
The music on its own would have been enough to satisfy anyone, however, the stuff going on behind the band was almost as interesting as the sound coming off the stage. Videos of trippy, mind-bending visuals were in full display on the projector screen. Included were a mix of animation (in particular, one during 'The Rip' that featured two people parasailing over a large city, only to find themselves letting go and falling into the great beyond at the end of the track), nature shots (swirling black-and-white images of bushes and trees during 'Hunter') and distorted video of the band on stage (the one at the end of the show, featuring Gibbons morphing in and out of random images and static, bordered on the absurd).
After they ended their main set, Portishead returned for a two-song encore, playing 'Roads' and 'We Carry On.' The show ended where it started: on a high note. However, there was one small complaint. The set should have been longer. After all, it had been 13 years since they had visited New York City, and fans would have been more than happy to hear them play into the night. Still, if those in attendance are going to wait that long in between the group's next tour, the trip to Hammerstein last night should more than suffice.