Portishead – Roseland NYC Live Album Review

“Roseland NYC Live ” by Portishead
Released on 2/11/1998 by Go! Discs/London (US)
Produced by Portishead

Ah… Portishead. I knew about this Bristol band back when I was about 15, but I never really got into them very much. Honestly, I have scarcely gone through their first two albums “Dummy” & “Portishead” yet I divulged each track on this album, recorded live at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City on the 27th of September 1997.

At first listen to opening track “Humming”, violin sounds swiftly throw themselves around in a mildly Sigur Rós manner (The Icelandic post-rock group just played KL on 25/11/2012, for the record). Then it all comes crashing down, smoothly and weirdly. Frankly, this is as chill as theatrical trip-hop goes. A down-tempo hip hop beat, Geoff Barrow spinning as disc-jockey, Clive Deamer adding a layer, texture of cool drums over the beat, Beth Gibbons wailing coherently through the microphone for added effect, Adrian Utley, guitarist on this weird-sounding keyboard. Every member of the band is a multi-instrumentalist in their own right. Somehow, the string arrangements go so well with what Portishead came to achieve live, which is frankly amazing. Strings & trip-hop with elements of jazz and rock? Why the f*** not?

Odd key strokes a few minutes later, then “Cowboys”. Over-distorted guitar rushes onto you like dirty beasts grabbing your attention and holding on real-tight. A simple enough drum beat, Beth speaking words of a beautiful, mesmerizing, dark angel, hippity-hop in between with all the DJ spinning. I have to say the title suits the song so well, it sounds like what goes through the head of a Western Ranger, possibly of African-American descent, all Mr. T-like, all alone on his horse in the desert somewhere, lonely soldier boy and all that stuff.
Ooohh… the drums stop for a while and the strings enter. Now it really sounds like the Ranger is dying after fighting a majestic, wild beast. God forbid.

Then, the band and orchestra take it up a notch with a moody, smooth-ass jazz track in “All Mine”. Show-like trumpets, funked-up guitar, jazzy drum beats, Beth singing something that must be dark but sounds so awkwardly magical. Violent, demanding violin strokes fill up the blank spaces that weren’t there before accompanied by brass section, Adrian adding psychedelic guitar effects, to trip you off the jazz. This is simply amazing, I am literally running out of words to describe the greatness oozing into my ears.

Next up, “Mysterons”, seems to be a crowd favourite as cheers echo around the ballroom. Faded, delayed guitar, class ‘A’ spinning by Geoff, drums getting more complicated now backing Beth’s incredible voice live. Did I mention Jim Barr’s accompaniment on bass guitar? He really knows how to hold a tune. “Did you really want?” Beth speaks, there’s alien-like keyboard sounds now. This is scary, doomy, dark stuff. DON’T do this album on LSD. You will trip your balls off, no jokes.

“Only You” is performed after, and I have to say this is one of my favourite tracks on this album. Break-beat hip hop, slow, chilled drums, Beth softly singing the chorus almost too endearingly, heart-breaking along with bass that holds all the chaos together. They performed all these songs live to perfection, I tell you, along with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. This next bit shouldn’t be right, but is so is. Jazzy Rhodes piano solo joined by the string section, jazz guitar following up as well. Terrifically well executed.

Now, “Half Day Closing” starts off with a bass-line along with strings, then Beth quietly interrupts them with psychedelic vocals scarily Matt Bellamy-like (Muse lead guitarist and singer). Drums soon join in with more weird keyboard effects. It’s great how this sounds dark, interesting and just almost unexplainably good.

Next track, “Over” starts off with a simple classical guitar riff, backed by the strings and of course, Beth’s beautiful vocals. The drums coax itself in forcefully, bass playing off-hand notes sort of out of time, keys playing somewhere in the background of all the black chaos. Oh, and there goes the DJ! Spinning classily on this doomy track. Officially in love with this band just by listening to this album alone. Seriously.

Ah, then “Glory Box” is as ‘Bond’-themed & classic as Portishead goes. Those violins accompanying deliciously, Beth sexily asking “Give me a reason to love you…”, Adrian’s funky guitar sound deserving a honourable mention on this review. This rendition is just TOO good for its own good. Acid trip-hop, trance-like in the middle, executed perfectly as it goes back into the slow smooth thing it started off as.

After all that glory, Portishead & the whole ensemble perform a different take on “Sour Times”, another classic from “Dummy”, one of the few songs I previously heard from the band. Drums floating all over the place with help from the keyboard effects, cowboy-themed guitar playing, Beth sadly sings “Nobody loves me, it’s true…”. Geoff spinning the decks professionally, adding some hip-hop flavour to a rather smooth, slow-rock track.

The next track is “Roads”, introduced with a delayed Rhodes piano riff, joined later by strings, more funkadelic guitar, Beth’s soulful, sultry voice just getting better and better with each passing song and how it ends, just beautiful. Sadly, the final track now, “Strangers” bangs off with distorted guitar, alarming siren sound in the midst of everything, dark drums and all before swiftly taking a shift into a clean jazz guitar thing and Beth’s vocals. Then it goes into what it started off as, a trip-hop rock dazzler joined by strings for a small section before going into this deep, joyous, trippy groove. The violins sound so insecure, almost forced-like and the brass section adds to the whole she-bang. I swear, parts of this track sound like a film piece for a aliens versus cowboys invasion. Simply amazing, no doubt.

Get this album if you are into either classical music/hip hop/rock/acid jazz/downtempo/film score & would like to hear how they would sound together. Worth a listen for true music lovers. Open up your mind, and you will find…. musical quintessence.

Album Rating: 9/10
“Majestic in its own right”


Danish Zainal

"Zeal without knowledge is fire without light." - Thomas Fuller, 17th century historian

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