PORTISHEAD @ The Sound Acaedmy – October 9, 2011

This weekend, Portishead made their triumphant return to Toronto for the first time in fourteen years – an epic event that led Ashley to make her triumphant return to the Sound Academy for the first time in… three years (give or take). A decision she did not make lightly.

But! Being a big fan of Portishead since early high school, Ashley was determined to relive her glory days no matter what it took, even if that meant revisiting her most despised music venue.

As was expected, Ashley saw absolutely nothing during the show, despite wearing boots with the highest heel she owns and positioning herself in an area that was not overly crowded. The cow-trough like narrowness of the venue eliminates any line of vision for anyone less than 5’5”. Trying to make your way closer to the stage only causes a severe sense of claustrophobia and manages to make the view of the stage even worse.

It’s a lost cause, but at least it was anticipated and the annoyed grumbles were kept to a minimum. And thankfully, the minimal stage show really only consisted of a video screen that reflected distorted images of the band and other psychedelic visuals, so what wasn’t seen wasn’t really missed.

It was the music that made the show and while the sound at the venue isn’t always the best, you barely noticed. With only three albums to pull from, the set list was a good balance between old and newer tunes, their first and last album being so different from each other that it provided quite the contrast in piercing dynamics.

Beth Gibbons poured herself into each song with impeccable self control and barely even bat an eye between the various transitions on stage. With three extra members sharing the stage that night, the band was in full force to recreate the layered brilliance you hear on each album. It all came together beautifully.

But it was the mid set stripped down version of Wandering Star that makes you remember why Portishead are so brilliant. It was so haunting that it gave you chills. This is why they can refrain from touring for fourteen years and still manage to sell out two nights at Toronto’s worst music venue.

All in all, Portishead’s return was definitely something to be thankful for this past Thanksgiving weekend. The Sound Academy?
Definitely not.

Images from Google Images. More good pictures here and here.