Having got home from north London at 2am this morning, let me just say this; if you went to both days and stayed for the duration twice, then you have my total and utter respect. Jo and I arrived at Alexandra Palace some time just after 3pm yesterday afternoon and left just after Portishead’s captivating performance at around 11pm. As Jo and I get ready to head off to Amsterdam, I feel quite smashed. My calves and hamstrings aching having spent most of yesterday on my feet.
Amazingly, the sun came out for what felt like the first time since May yesterday afternoon- this helped the mood as we strode up the hill towards one of Haringey’s more impressive buildings bathed in its glorious light. We spent a couple of hours wandering around, taking in the various goings on, I think we walked through the back of the Great Hall as Liars were finishing their set. The first thing we actually took a proper look at was Adrian Utley and Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory’s collaboration on a new soundtrack for the silent film, The Passion Of Joan of Arc. Though quite a crowd had gathered for it, it quickly dispersed which was a shame as it sounded pretty good. We, I’m ashamed to say, joined the exodus and ended up going for some food- hot dog for me, pie and mash for Jo- before heading over to the Panorama Room to check out Acoustic Ladyland. They were playing their final gig and it was rather loud. Too loud for the room they were in, I thought. So we (I) purchased a Portishead t-shirt and we headed back to the Great Hall, via the loos and a trip over some girl sitting on the floor in the dark (luckily for me, she cushioned my fall), where sound adjustments were being completed before the Swans took the stage.
What to say about the Swans? Well, a bit like Acoustic Ladyland, they were loud. Really fucking loud. And that makes it difficult, thinking back on it now, to pick out anything in particular that sounded good. Jo put it this way, “They’re just a harder Godspeed”, which I don’t think is far from the truth. However, it wasn’t difficult to get lost in the pounding rhythms struck by the drummer and percussionist. Michael Gira, the band leader, seemed to enjoying himself, spitting on, and slapping, himself at various points in the performance. He even called us “beautiful bunny rabbits” at the end of the performance in the first intelligible words of the show. Well, apart from “Jim” and “father”, that is. If that sounds like I didn’t enjoy them, that’s not the case and I will be checking them out on cd- where I’ll be able to listen to them at a volume of my choosing.
A quick dash for refreshments and then, what seemed like no time later, Nick Cave’s Grinderman project hit the stage.
“Well I woke up this morning and I thought what am I doing here/ yeah what am I doing here?”
Apt words to begin with and Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man, the opener to the recent Grinderman 2 album, kicked things off in fine style. Next, Worm Tamer, with it’s “For Too Long!” chant, raised temperatures a little before Get It On really got the crowd going and Heathen Child nearly took the roof off the place, “Give me the money!”. Cave was out into the crowd screaming into various faces. As Grinderman only had an hour, they concentrated on the rockier songs from the two albums. Which meant that we got Honeybee, featuring Cave bashing the hell out of the keyboard, a fantastic version of Kitchenette, “I just wanna relax! I just wanna relax!” and the song that turned me onto Cave’s genius in the first place, the fantastic No Pussy Blues. If Bellringer Blues cooled things a notch, the hypnotic Grinderman took it right down. And left the way clear for Love Bomb to close off a pretty exhilirating hour.
We had to wait a while, but I think it’s fair to say that when you balance 45 minutes against the 11 years between Portishead and Third, then it’s not so long really. It’s a blink of an eye. I think the set Portishead played last night was very close to the one with which they showcased Third three years ago, but I’m not complaining about that. Not when there is still so much to get your teeth into. Silence kicked off proceedings, bringing an immediate tear to my eye. I’m not sure where Beth Gibbons lives in the pantheon of great female vocallists, but her voice does something to me that is difficult to put into words. So when she sings “Do you know what I lost? Do you know what I wanted?” I’m right there with her, feeling her pain, feeling her thwarted desires.
Mysterons, predictably, got the first big cheer of the night and it is the songs from Dummy that get the warmest reception. Naturally, I suppose, but I feel like the band have moved on. Some of us have moved with them. That said, it would be foolish to deny the force of Glory Box and (saved for the encore) the beautiful Roads. I’m getting emotional sitting here, just thinking about that one. It would also be neglectful of me not to mention, the stunning Wandering Star, stripped of any pyrotechnics, allowing Beth’s croon to really take centre stage.
As in 2008, Wandering Star gave way to Machine Gun, which- for me, anyway- takes its rightful place as a Portishead classic. Not joining, not yet anyway, was a new song that I suspect was supposed to be Chase The Tear. The band started it five times before giving up on “Portishead doing comedy”, as Beth put it. I don’t think anyone was complaining after a powerful rendition of Cowboys though. Well, I wasn’t anyway, but then Cowboys is my favourite Portishead track.
One of the set highlights, I thought, was Third’s final track, Threads. As the song built to its crescendo, Beth let rip with repeated cries of “I’m tired!” “I’m worn!” They seemed pretty heartfelt to me. Not that she looked tired out there. I’m always intrigued to watch her on stage, grinning at the audience when a song is greeted with acclaim- you could see she loved the reception afforded to Sour Times- back to us when not singing. As the extended wig out to final track of the night We Carry On filled the room, Beth made her customary dash along the front row to say thanks to everyone.
I think that, last night, it was very much a case of, “No, thank you, Portishead”. And please don’t leave it another 11 years before releasing your next album.
A bit late to be editing this blog, but I’m a victim of circumstance and, at the end of the day, it is my blog… so, without further ado, I bring you the aforementioned, “stunning”, version of Wandering Star that Portishead performed on Sunday evening. Recorded by, er, me! Anyway, check it out. I’ll be back with a list of things I like about Amsterdam at some point tomorrow.