Portugal. The Man plays at WOW Hall on Nov. 19, 2016. Pieces of the set radiate inspiration, including the lead singer’s guitar and the bubble-like fixtures hanging around the stage.
It is immediately apparent that Portland-based band Portugal. The Man values creativity. Its name alone is catchy, but admittedly weird, something that can be said for its music as well. The band takes psychedelic rock for a spin, adding a poppy and memorable twist to the sometimes elusive genre. Some of its work seems incredibly David Bowie-esque, too, especially the science-fiction of “Atomic Man” on its 2013 album “Evil Friends” and singer John Gourley’s impressively androgynous vocals. Bowie’s artistic expression is immeasurable, and Portugal. The Man cites him as one of its greatest influences. To have been even mildly influenced by Bowie shows an aptitude for the creative, and Portugal. The Man certainly has this gift.
Lead singer John Gourley wears unique black and white buckled loafers.
Being in the front row of this concert was a dreamlike experience for me, as both a fan of the band and someone who is constantly looking for inspiration. The colors and lights fused with the omnipresent fog machine to create beautiful rainbow clouds on stage. This was perfect, especially, for “Sea of Air,” the mellow song that opened the encore. Every lyric and chord change confirmed my belief about the group’s ability to be incredibly inventive and musical.
Kyle O’Quin provides backup vocals and keys for the band. Here, he wears a Ducks jersey that was thrown at him by an audience member.
Some of the band’s lyrics reveal an undertone of anxiety and sadness, things that I have personally dealt with. The song “Sleep Forever” contains the lyrics, “I just want to sleep forever/Never see tomorrow/Or Lead or follow.” These lines echo a sentiment of lethargy that I am all too familiar with. But this band has cast away potential feelings of despondence and turned them into creative action, an extremely important theme in today’s world. When I spoke to Gourley, he said, “I grew up really shy…I go in and out of being super down on myself and depressed. Music is the most important thing to me…it’s really how you express yourself.”
Gourley’s message resonated with me. My parents never expected me to be a scientist. Instead, creativity was essentially force-fed to me by my mother and father from a very young age. I was constantly left to my own devices, sitting in the audience of a high school auditorium while my mother directed a musical or trying to figure out how to play a guitar while my father worked with musicians in his studio in the other room. Spending so much time watching other people interact creatively inspired my vivid imagination. I constantly persuaded my younger sister and cousins to act in the plays that I wrote, culminating in big performances on the top of the spiral staircase in my grandparents’ house. The audience, made up of my mother, my grandmother and a couple of uncles and aunts, roared with applause in a way that only they could. But creating something that people liked was an addicting feeling, and as an anxious child, I was so lucky to have the means and the supporting environment to be able to express myself.
As I grew older, I began to understand the tangible effect that creativity had on me. Every choir rehearsal or rough watercoloring session provided me with an escape. Gourley expressed similar ideas. “Most of the people I know have this side of them that they’re trying to escape from…” he said. “[Creativity] is like an escape for them.” It also lets people forge connections with others, understand their place in the world and stand up for causes that they believe in. In times when things are rocky in the world, creative expression can help people feel as if they have some semblance of control over the greater good. And, oftentimes, creators do have control. Portugal. The Man is among the artists who have influenced me in my life and on my journey. The group’s lyrics overwhelmingly support love and acceptance, without being preachy. “I think it’s important to realize that we’re all the same,” Gourley said. While I think that statement overlooks certain truths in today’s culture, I believe that the sentiment is correct. We are all looking for a way to express ourselves, whether that be with music, drawing or the way we dress. And from the sequin covered guitar strap that Gourley wore to the band’s beautifully crafted and performed songs, this show inspired me to create, turning internal upset into something external that might benefit myself and others.
Words and pictures by Taylor Griggs, @griggstaylor3