Portugal. The Man, Lucius, Jungle

Forest Hills Stadium, Queens, NY

September 22, 2018

Story, photos, and video (unless otherwise noted) by Kelly D

(Kelly D’s Concert Chronicles in Quarantine is a series of concert memories we’ll share while the live music industry is temporarily shuttered due to COVID-19 physical distancing. Enjoy!)

Have you ever seen a concert so utterly spectacular (in all definitions of the word) it’s still burned into the back of your eyelids 18 months later?

Look, I knew the combo of rising stars Portugal. The Man, Lucius, and Jungle was going to be great, but holy shit y’all. I’ve been meaning to write this review for a while but until recently I couldn’t even put into the English language how incredible it was. I’ll do my best to convey my evening from September 2018 thusly.

Let me set the scene: a fucking former TENNIS STADIUM in the middle of the gingerbread cookie neighborhood of Forest Hills in Queens, New York. This shit is so twee it literally has a plaque dedicating the “worst tennis” of Richie Tenenbaum’s life. Yes, from the (fictional) movie The Royal Tenenbaums. The 2018 concert schedule was displayed in the courtyard area like tennis face-offs of yore. It was too precious for words. The lineup for the event was four acts that began at 6 and ended at 10 PM due to a neighborhood curfew- as the stadium, I must stress, is in the MIDDLE OF A COLLECTION OF GINGERBREAD HOUSES. Indeed, it seems like the tiny-ass tennis stadium was even built into the neighborhood plan. Wandering around it after the show, it felt like I was on a movie set. Made of cookies.

My partner Stevie, my sister Becca, and I had an absolutely primo view in what seemed like the only padded seats in the entire stadium. We were above the general admission area (which was the tennis court itself) but almost eye-level with the stage.

We missed the first act, Hobo Johnson and the Lovemakers, but settled in for Jungle‘s set. I knew one of their songs, “Happy Man,” and they got the crowd- still filing in- out of their bleacher seats and dancing. I noted the band members’ relatively coordinated outfits of mustard yellow and burnt umber and how it all went with their ’70s-tinged alt-rock sound.

Next up was my favorite currently-touring (well, not right now. . .) act, Lucius. I had seen them twice previously that year on their acoustic “Live Nudes” tour and I was eager to see what they had up their identical sleeves. I had read they were doing a few shows with the dance trio the Seaweed Sisters, and their set began with what I could’ve sworn was a hyper-edited snippet of some speech from an Audrey Hepburn movie. As the Seaweed Sisters mimed their way through an ever-more-spastic repetition of “I must go / I’m rather important / lips / eyes/ white stocking / black stocking / 8:15 / already? / reflections are so tedious, aren’t they?” (and more) I could sense the tension in the crowd begin to creep. Finally, the three women began to clap in time while the “LUCIUS” logo sign began to flash different colors. In a puff of dry ice, there were the two gals we were waiting to see- Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe, clapping along with the Seaweed Sisters, to their stripped-down version of “Something About You.”

Their set was MUCH too short for my liking, but them’s the breaks. There was an unexpected but extremely welcome segue from “Turn It Around” (the video of which originated the “white stocking / black stocking” performance piece) into Whitney Houston’s forever classic “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” The set ended, I believe, with their song “Genevieve,” and we watched as the ladies whipped out a cowbell and tambourine to knock out the opening notes and bobbed in unison next to their shared microphone. My sister, who had arrived late but found us without issue, screwed up her face in confusion. “Don’t they usually end their sets with-” she began, and sure enough, they had given their thanks to us, the audience, and that was it.

Our disappointment quickly abated when Portugal. The Man band member Zach introduced members of several indigenous tribes from the Queens area. Some held signs saying WATER IS LIFE, CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL, and NATIVE LIVES MATTER, and some performed a native song and welcomed us to their ancestral land. As the (white) members of PTM grew up in Wasilla, Alaska, they also had access to the native culture there and use their privilege and position in society to shed light on marginalized people.

Video c/o nygirly 420

I had that much more respect for the band at that moment. Then the screen behind the stage flickered to life, and a snippet of the “Feel It Still” music video came on, followed by the unmistakable visages of Beavis and Butt-head. I had seen PTM once before, in June 2017 at the fabled Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Their entrance back on June 18th, 2017 was to the demure classic “Unchained Melody.” Of course, that concert was just before their song “Feel It Still” exploded into the public zeitgeist and became inescapable, eventually winning a Grammy in January 2018. Luckily for all of us, it’s kind of a perfect song that largely resists getting stale. Nobody didn’t know that song at this point in time, and especially now!

This is all to say, while I had seen this same band more than a year prior, the members and I were now grappling with their new superstar status. And suffice to say, no one was taking themselves too seriously. The press passes their team handed out were stickers of the Garbage Pail Kids, fer chrissakes. Anyhow, the two cartoon punks were doing their usual schtick of making fun of music videos, roundly mocking the “Feel It Still” one. In the cartoon short, Butt-head (the one with brown hair) has an epiphany that their whole opinion of the band had been wrong, that in fact PTM was the greatest band ever- better than the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, even Silverchair. This was the kind of deadpan absurd humor that I love and that united Stevie and me to date in the first place, so I was kind of losing my mind at how clever it all was. (Also it should be mentioned at this point in time that he and I were on a substance that truly amplified EVERYTHING around me in the best way.)

So the stage was (literally) set: PTM was telling us that we were in for a mindfuck of the highest degree. You know that one song of ours? LOL. Prepare to get your brain blown out the back of your skull.

At this point in time, the band members (plus a string section?!) music swelled, and the band (beneath the flared animated nostrils of Beavis and Butt-Head) began an instrumental cover of Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” The visuals behind them were what I can only describe as a lava lamp getting a colonoscopy. Sitting back with my feet up on the railing, I whispered to Stevie, “They better do the segue of ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ into ‘Purple Yellow Red and Blue.'”

I had been impatient- cuz that was the immediate song after the Metallica cover. The throbbing disco beat of the Pink Floyd song matches perfectly with the ode to hedonism from PTM’s 2013 album Evil Friends. The band did a full-on jammy get-down, the string section screeched, the light show flashed, the graphics on the screen began a dizzying slideshow of vaguely unsettling images. 

Moon rise behind Portugal. The Man

“Number One,” the first song off of their latest release Woodstock, was next. It samples Richie Havens’ performance AT Woodstock, interpolating his version of “Motherless Child” into the beginning of the song. The graphics this time were a mix of garish cartoons, snarky self-effacing (yet not) commentary about the band’s godlike status that was touched on in the Butt-Head sermon, and anti-racist quotes from Arthur Ashe, Nelson Mandela, and others.

“Live in the Moment” was up next. Hoo boy, did we live up to the title, for better or worse. The screen behind the band showed some of the fucking freakiest shit I’ve ever seen at a show. You want multiplying bald, genderless beings with all-black eyes spilling out of each other? You want to fly into the mouth of what looks like a black-eyed CPR test dummy over and over and over? Well, whether you wanted it or not, that’s what happened.

“Creep in a T-shirt,” one of the songs that got me into the band, got a thumping breakdown at the end of the song, segueing into a snippet of “Children of the Revolution” by T. Rex. I couldn’t help but headbang, as did the band members onstage.

Perhaps many folks in the crowd were wondering when “Feel It Still” was going to be played, for real. Well, the PTM merry pranksters weren’t going to play it without sticking their tongues firmly in their cheeks. During “Atomic Man,” with its deceptively bouncy chorus “After you I don’t know what I believe in/After you, hell should be easy,” the disconcerting graphics paused to flash the words “WE ARE PORTUGAL. THE MAN! JUST MAKING SURE YOU’RE AT THE RIGHT CONCERT. DON’T WORRY, WE ARE PLAYING THAT SONG RIGHT AFTER THIS.” Indeed they did. “YOUR MOM LOVES THIS SONG,” the screen proclaimed as the extended opening to “Feel It Still” played. Becca and I chuckled, because yes she does.

I might’ve officially lost my mind during “Modern Jesus,” when the band slowed to a heady thud as a graphic declared “PTM SAVES,” flanked by hands clutching rosary beads, below a profile of Baphomet. The image lasted only a few seconds before it shifted to a close-up of another black-eyed being as its face melted into itself over and over. (Watch the video at the beginning of the PTM section of this review; you can’t make this shit up.)

At the end of “All Your Light,” lead singer John Gourley took a break as the screen snarkily flashed “REAL BANDS DON’T NEED SINGERS.” Then, as the extended instrumental played [note: was it Rush or Led Zeppelin they were playing?!], it flashed “Y’ALL LIKE. . . / SMOKIN’ WEED??? / GETTIN FUCKED UP??? / DISCUSSING POLITICS AT FAMILY GATHERINGS / THAT’S FUCKIN’ BADASS.” All this while a pile of skulls rotated in the background, because of course it did. And then, because of course they did, the band shifted to playing the breakdown of The Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy” while choice quotes from infamous tennis player John McEnroe appeared.

Most of our senses got a reprieve during the next song, the ballad “Sea of Air.” But it was sometime around the time of looking at the disgusting computer-animated face with rainbow-colored spaghetti swaying out of it that I leaned over to Stevie and whisper-shouted, “This is fucking AWESOME.” He emphatically agreed, and perhaps not coincidentally, that song playing during that exchange- “Noise Pollution”- has become his favorite PTM song. (Seriously- the graphics for the songs were beyond even Adam Jones’ from Tool twisted mind. Amazingly disturbing.)

To add to the surreal splendor, the almost-full moon was rising just behind the stadium and hung in the night sky for the remainder of the set. What a scene.

All good things come to an end, however, and of course PTM ended as pulsatingly as possible. “Hip Hop Kids” gave us a break from the body horror on screen, opting instead for a Droste effect image of pill-shaped faces warping out of the previous faces’ eyes. And “Holy Roller” featured quotes by tennis great Billie Jean King, along with a recursive picture of a neverending iris in an eyeball (oh, and a picture of a woman in a gimp suit with her tiddies exposed). The stage went dark, but soon enough, a send-up of the old “PLEASE STAND BY” cards appeared, featuring Portugal. The Man and the profile of Baphomet.

The screen implored, “CAN YOU CHEER AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE FOR ZACH? HE LOVES ATTENTION / LETS (sic) START A CHANT – ZACH ZACH ZACH” and Zach, who’d been talking to us in the crowd all night, told us they’d do one more song. . . and the stage went dark. “I’m pretty sure. I don’t know what I did today to make me feel uncomfortable, but uh, I guess this is it.” At this point, the rest of the band members re-appeared and began the ballad “Sleep Forever,” with a merciful background of galactic stars. The imagery shifted to snowy mountains (a nod to their native Alaska?) and then the words “THAT’S RIGHT KIDS. NO COMPUTERS HERE. JUST LIVE INSTRUMENTS” flashed occasionally.

After both the band and the screen repeated the anthemic chorus, “I’M SORRY FOR THE LOVE YOU LOST TODAY BUT I’LL THANK YOU FOR THE LOVE I MADE TODAY” PTM shifted seamlessly into the “na na na na” singalong at the apex of “Hey Jude.” And with that, Portugal. The Man closed Forest Hills Stadium for the night, and none of us would ever be the same.

Walking out of the stadium property amidst the presumably just-as-dazed throngs of people, I was at a loss for words. And I would remain so until this past week when I felt I could finally put down my experience into English.

The ethos of the band couldn’t have been more clear, then and now: they are here to subvert the entire music industry and are doing it by being as rascally as possible. It is refreshing to have a band on the scene whose members’ heads are nowhere near their asses, and I look forward to whatever they do next once this living nightmare is all over.

Portugal. The Man 09.22.18 Setlist:

  • [Beavis and Butt-Head Intro]
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls (Metallica cover)
  • Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 (Pink Floyd cover)
  • Purple Yellow Red and Blue
  • Number One
  • Live in the Moment
  • Creep in a T-Shirt > Children of the Revolution (T. Rex cover)
  • Atomic Man
  • Feel It Still
  • Modern Jesus
  • All Your Light (Times Like These) 
  • Instrumental > She’s So Heavy (Beatles cover)
  • Sea of Air 
  • So Young
  • Noise Pollution
  • Hip Hop Kids
  • Holy Roller (Hallelujah)
  • Encore: Sleep Forever > Hey Jude (Beatles cover)