REVIEW: Portugal. The Man Kicked It Like It Was 1986 at The Van Buren 10-12-17

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PHOENIX – Thursday, October 12th, was a much-anticipated night for fans of indie rock band Portugal. The Man. While many people may have heard of Portugal. The Man, or PTM for short, over the years since their inception in 2004, the band truly found fame after releasing their hit single “Feel It Still” from their new album, Woodstock. Almost overnight, “Feel It Still” became a widely played hit and currently sits at a comfortable 6th place spot on the Billboard Hot 100 list, inclusive of all genres of music.

This unexpected and sudden boost in attention may explain why their show at The Van Buren quickly sold out, and it may also explain a shirt they had on display at their merchandise booth with the message, “I LIKED PORTUGAL. THE MAN BEFORE THEY SOLD OUT.” This was just one of many interesting shirts and various other accessories they had on sale, with some items featuring their iconic and fascinatingly styled artwork. The lead singer, John Gourley, is the artist, and his style is quite unique.

The Van Buren is a new establishment, but it is quickly establishing its dominance in the Phoenix Metro area. Many people visited The Van Buren for the first time on Thursday evening, and many people in the crowd could be overheard discussing how great this new space is. Since the show was entirely sold out, they had the house cleared out as much as possible and even set up an auxiliary bar located house right, close to the side exits to the restrooms. This made for 3 bars inside to complement the bars out on the patio. The crowd was definitely hydrated, and the drinks were flowing — everyone was getting ready for the time of their lives.

The Chamanas

By the time The Chamanas started playing, the house was filling up fast. People were well lubricated, and cans of PBR could be seen in hands throughout the rapidly-growing crowd. While they were enjoying their beverages, The Chamanas treated them to a soothing mix of several of their distinctly varied songs. Paulina Reza, lead singer of The Chamanas, has a beautiful voice and a powerful set of lungs which she employed to their fullest throughout the show.

The Chamanas are considered a “Fronterizo pop fusion ensemble,” and their name is part English, part Spanish, and part portmanteau; all together, they represent a physical manifestation of the magical, spiritual qualities that music may sometimes bring into the world. Their goal? To change the way people may think or feel by bringing a positive outlook and spreading love through their songs. What better way to celebrate the idea of people coming together across borders to celebrate common interests and emotions? The members come from both Juarez, Chihuahua, and El Paso, Texas, making this a fantastic fusion of cultures, languages, and styles.

Reza brings vocals that are at once unique, but also reminiscent of many famous singers who may not be well known in the US. In fact, the style of her voice in many of her songs brings hints of Jeanette, the famous British-Spanish pop artist who spent much of her own musical career bridging cultural gaps through music. The rest of The Chamanas are also reminiscent of similarly-minded bands, such as Calexico, who will be playing at the upcoming Lost Lake Festival on Friday, October 20th, as well as Chicano Batman, who will be playing at The Van Buren on Saturday, November 4th.

During The Chamanas’s performance, Reza took a moment to tell the crowd, “We love music. We love to do this.” She continued to share positive thoughts like this throughout their performance, both in Spanish and English; “Music is the answer,” she said; it can become a cure for discrimination across the country.

Towards the end of The Chamanas’s time on stage, Reza also shared that, when using Portugal. The Man’s recording studio, Sonic Ranch, they became quite friendly with one another. After a while, PTM asked The Chamanas to perform some of their songs in Spanish to help bridge the gaps between genres and cultures. Reza and the band were thrilled to do so.

This lead to a stunning rendition of “Purple Yellow Red & Blue” in mostly Spanish, with a few famous lines still in the original English — most notably, the lyrics from the chorus that are the same as the title of the song. They also played their version of “Feel It Still,” which was phenomenal as well. This was a great way to get the crowd excited for Portugal. The Man, and Reza further hyped the crowd by asking if they were excited to see PTM later. The crowd screamed their approval.

Portugal. The Man

After a short break consisting of eager fans pressing ever-closer together towards the stage, the lights went out, and “Unchained Melody” by Righteous Brothers began to play. The crowd’s eager cheers soon gave way to gentle swaying, and a few people pulled out their lighters. Several others joined with their cell phones, but the effect was not the same. Some began to sing along, especially as the song reached its climax, so to speak:

“Are you
Still mine
I need your love
I need your love
Godspeed your love to me”

Just as the song reached the peak of its climactic crescendo, one of the Portugal. The Man logos was projected onto the backdrop along with their title, “The Lords of Portland.” Their desert kingdom awaited them.

Following their royal title was a message for their loyal subjects: “We are not very good at stage banter, so tonight’s performance will feature some slogans written by our management. Thank you for your continued understanding. PTM.” They followed this projected message with a verbal greeting: “What’s up Phoenix? We’re Portugal. The Man.” Immediately after this, they went right into their cover of Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” complete with ominous bells preceding stellar instrumentals.Those guys can rock out with the best of them.

The next song in PTM’s lineup was their second most famous song, “Purple Yellow Red & Blue.” It was clear that fans in the crowd loved hearing one of their favorite songs performed live, and many sang along. While much of the song was the same as the radio or album versions, they did add quite a few instrumental intermissions. This showed off their passion for progressive rock, which they would dive into again frequently throughout the remainder of the show.

Their penchant for progressive rock is rivaled by their love of psychedelic rock, so of course they had to cover Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” — if the singing heard from the crowd was any indication, the rest of the room definitely seemed to approve of this addition to the show. “Hey, teachers, leave those kids alone!” This was quite fitting because many might say Portugal. The Man is quite similar to a contemporary version of Pink Floyd, though they definitely have their own, signature style.

To couple with all the alternative, psychedelic, progressive, and experimental tunes Portugal. The Man were playing, they treated the crowd to an equally-psychedelic light show, complete with a section of “Purple Yellow Red & Blue” transitioning into an entrancing display of alternating rainbows reaching out towards the audience. Naturally, they also threw in purple, yellow, red, and blue lights, perfectly timed with their accompanying lyrics.

Hypnotic lasers, flashing lights, and rainbow hues were not the only visual accoutrements during the show; Portugal. The Man brought some fascinating visuals to display on the backdrop behind them. These frequently featured nightmarish images of bodies, heads, and eyes, and each song had a unique combination of one or many of these features. Diamonds and other geometric shapes also found their way into the visual feast on the projector. One thing is for certain — these graphics were unforgettable, hollow eyes and all.

As advertised, occasionally, the “management” threw up more messages throughout the show. Some of these messages stated things like, “We are Portugal. The Man! Just making sure you’re at the right concert,” and “Thank you for buying and/or stealing our new album.” Their self-awareness and reticence (or perhaps just pure love for playing music) were quite refreshing, and these textual messages were more than enough stage banter for this show.

Other amusing messages included the following series: “Smokin’ Weed???” “Gettin F*cked Up???” “Discussing Politics at Family Gatherings” and, finally, “That’s F*ckin’ Bad Ass.” The most important message throughout the entire show, however, was most likely the message that read, “That’s right kids. No computers up here. Just live instruments.”

After playing “Feel It Still” and many other hit songs, and after bringing some Woodstock vibes to Phoenix, it was time for a Portugal. The Man style encore. The crowd was greeted with a customized PTM version of the old-school “Indian-head test pattern” that used to play on broadcast TV: “Please Stand By.” Fans of the Fallout video game series may also recognize it quite well. This take on the interim between main show and encore was different and, again, self-aware, but everyone knew they’d be coming back out for a few more songs anyway. They must have wanted to be efficient about it.

Almost as soon as Portugal. The Man had swept into The Van Buren, the show was over. After their last song, the band quickly dispersed and left the stage without as much as a farewell. However, this is their style, so this is the way it must be. PTM fans were not bothered by this one bit, and many could be heard after the show eagerly chatting about how this was “the best concert of all time.” One thing is for sure: they put on a damn good show, and Phoenix is definitely feeling it still.

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Sean Tingle
Music Journalist at Burning Hot Events

English Instructor at ASU, & Humanities Instructor at EMCC. Taught in Japan for 1 year. World traveler. Dessert, tea, & coffee lover. Video game player & sci-fi/fantasy aficionado. Fan of all sorts of music. Rescue dog advocate.


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