Portishead`s Concert essay

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Portishead is one of the most mysterious bands of our time. It was founded in 1991 in Portishead city (UK). The band’s musicians, Geoff Barrow (sampler), Beth Gibbons (vocals, lyrics), Dave MacDonald (drums), Adrian Utley (guitar, mixing board), are regarded as the inventors of the music trend of the XXI century – trip-hop. The songs of Portishead are hypnotic and smooth fragments-samples with mysterious "spy" melodies and, of course, ethereal voice of Beth Gibbons. Their music is hypnotic and sensual, it opiates and subordinates from the first sounds.

The band’s first concert (together with the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra) was held at New York's Roseland Ballroom Concert Hall on the 24th of July 1997. It is interesting that the band attracted a great number of musicians, especially of brass and violin sections. At the concert, listeners were able to hear twelve violins, four violas, three cellos, a blockflute, a tenor saxophone, a trombone, a baritone saxophone, and an oboe. The band played eleven songs, namely: “Humming”, “Cowboys”, “All Mine”, “Half Day Closing”, “Over”, “Only You”, “Seven Months”, “Numb”, “Undenied”, “Mysterons”, “Sour Times”, “Elysium”, “Glory Box”, “Roads”, “Strangers”, “Western Eyes”. The voice of Beth Gibbons is the heart and soul of Portishead;, the rich palette of guitars gives a sense of spontaneity and improvisation, and the skills of DJs give the finishing touch to this rich, colorful, and unpredictable experiment.

The lyrics of Portishead’s songs are filled with grief and despair. Gibbons sings about suffering from love in “Humming” that is “unresolved” and “unredeemed”. Her voice is disconsolate, the tempo of the song is languid, and its rhythm is spooky and bloodcurdling. The pitch of the singer’s feelings is emphasized by the strings’ pizzicato and the sullen sounding of the synthesizer. “Humming’s” style sounds like the music from a horror film from the late 20-ies, and this adds a stylish touch of an old way in a “noire” fashion. “Mysterons” is as creepy (referring to style) as “Humming” – it also has this ‘gowling’ sound in the background and a slow tempo.  “Sour Times” is a song of a forsaken  soul, which comes to terms with its loneliness and otiosity (“Cos nobody loves me, it`s true”). The tone of the singer’s voice is almost a weep, and the tune of the song is deliberate and tranquil.

“Cowboys” together with “Over” and “Seven Months”  are opposite to “Humming”; I guess, Gibbons tried to show all the power of her rage in this song – her voice sounds dramatic and sarcastic at the same time. The vocalist’s lyrics are filled with hatred; I suppose, her text is addressed to God as a deceiver (“Did you feed us tales of deceit”) and pompous ruler of our world. The electric guitar vibrates like in a cowboy movie, and the chords create a tense atmosphere. The harmony of this song’s music is apparent – all the musical insruments come to consonance, and the listener’s ear cannot seize any odd sound.  

“All Mine”, “Only You”, and “Glory Box” compose an intimate lovesong ‘trinity’ of the concert. “All Mine” makes the listener shiver from the strength of the vocalist,s voice and gradual crescendo of the strings and trumpets. “Only You” and “Glory Box” have similar soft tempo, though, the first song accentuates its music on the mixing board. The second song has a jazzy orchestration (strings, saxophone, ‘weeping’ guitar) with a smooth, sensual vocal.

Portishead’s concert has made me fall in love with their music. Its harmonious sound, heavenly vocals, and unique mood could not leave me indifferent. I was all ears throughout the concert. 

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