First Night: Portishead, Hammersmith Apollo, London
The future is bright after a decade in the darkness
Friday 11 April 2008
Portishead's debut, Dummy, soundtracked the mid-90s with a new sort of West Country hip-hop, built around John Barry samples and sultry unease. But their prototype for their music was so original and perfect, it seemed to render future albums obsolete. The band felt that, agonising over their self-titled second, and taking a decade to return with Third, which finally tears up their old sonic blueprint.
But last night's quietly successful return to London proved that Portishead should learn to stop worrying. John Barry's samples were never their real secret.
Beth Gibbons' soulful, secretly confessional singer-song-writing, hidden by Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley's sonic schemes, which stay almost indifferent to her words, is Portishead's unsnappable heart. Watching them last night, they seemed ready to let it start beating.
"Mysterons" is soon greeted like a long-lost friend. It is built on the tension that keeps Portishead alive. Gibbons clutches the mic, lost in her lyrics.
It's tempting to imagine Gibbons taking the band over, reminding them they don't have to struggle so hard, that all they really need are songs. Portishead show how keen they are on such unstructured busking when they briefly leave the stage for technology to be fixed. But when Gibbons sings "The Rip" as a smouldering English folk song, before the band add the spare, weird clatter it needs, yourealise they have it right.
"Glory Box", the song that soundtracked 1995, shows how conventional they could be. Gibbons kittenishly purrs its words of pleading sexual assertion, and Utley's scraped guitar shames his rock peers.
But even before Barrow's hip-hop beats dive-bomb it out of shape, the lack of cliché as those elements combine shows the benefit of the band's years of rigorous self-analysis, as if they were a strict Marxist cell. Maybe more bands should miss a decade, till they have something to say.
"Wandering Star" is taken by Gibbons, Barrow and Utley alone and acoustic, sat as if around a campfire. Gibbons sings of being "doubled over" by grief. She concludes, sounding like a wail through the eaves, a wronged woman's ghost. The least adorned song, it gets the loudest cheer.
Once deemed a dated footnote, by themselves most of all, last night Portishead's future looked wide open.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 2 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 3 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 4 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
- 5 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
Madonna might be a stand-up comedy virgin - but she wasn't terrible
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling