Portugal. The Man Excites at the Key Club

As a child, the parents of John Baldwin Gouley, singer/guitarist of self-proclaimed soul/funk/electro band ‘Portugal. The Man,’ ran the famous Alaskan dog-sledding race Iditarod, in the organizational sense, as well as (his father only) actually running in the race.
Such a background seems fitting for Gouley and his fellow musicians, whose band’s sound would best be compared with an Alaskan dog race; it’s not afraid to be wild and rugged within a structured framework, all in the backdrop of a serene frozen landscape.
So this may be kind of a stretch, but these guys literally looked like they just stepped off a hipster version of a sled race on Jan. 22 at the Key Club, all sporting unkempt beards and hair, with most not even taking their jackets off onstage.
To say the least, Portugal stuck out like a sore thumb in the best possible way, as a supporting act with Nural and Fetterline for headliners My American Heart.
From the moment Portugal stepped on the Key Club stage, it felt like something special and different was going to happen. Singer/guitarist Gouley, who was dressed somewhat like a hipster Unabomber, never unsheathing his hooded jacket or sunglasses, and said very little before launching into ‘AKA M80 the Wolf’ off the band’s first full-length album, entitled ‘Waiter: You Vultures!’ released Jan. 26 on Fearless Records.
There were several electronic elements to the band’s live performance, which made the experience stand out from the other bands. Portugal featured their own lighting. There were also several songs which used sampling and electronic drums in order to fully represent many of the album tracks that use such elements.
Musically, Portugal is the type of band to get many of us re-excited and inspired by energetic rock music. In a musical environment where simplicity and marketability have overrun much of distortion-based music, forcing many to turn to hip-hop and electronica for anything original. Portugal brings us back to a place where we remember why we once started listening to this type of music.
The interesting elements of this band are found in the combination of technical, groove-based instrumentals with Gouley’s well-crafted melodic lines.
Gouley’s voice, a defining characteristic of Portugal, is extremely high and almost feminine-sounding on recording. But in the live setting, he sounds amazing and is able to showcase the pure power of his voice, as shown in the band’s opening song ‘MK80.’
All of these elements will inevitably cause comparisons to bands like The Mars Volta. While they are in the same ballpark, Portugal is comparatively pop-oriented and more accessible to the experimental side.
Wesley James Hubbard and Zachary Carothers also have strong backup voices, which bring many of the vocally multilayered songs on ‘Waiter: You Vultures!’ to life.
Everything about this band has a drawing power that can’t be ignored, starting with the name, which has maybe the best midname punctuation use in recent years.
The three original members of Portugal, singer/guitarist Gouley, keyboardist/singer Hubbard and bassist/singer Carothers are not Portuguese, but rather hail from Wasilla, Alaska.
Gouley and Carothers started the band Anatomy of a Ghost in the summer of 2002 and gained a considerable following in their hometown. But luckily for the current Portugal lineup, Anatomy broke up due to musical differences.
After teaming up with Alaskan native Hubbard, the three moved to Portland, Ore., their current home base, and rounded off the official lineup with drummer and Portland native Jason Sechrist.
After joining up with Sechrist, the band endured a year-and-a-half of financially hard times while they wrote new material and waited to record.
On Fearless Record’s site, Gouley explains, ‘We wouldn’t spend money on anything. It was horrible. Rough times for sure.’
In 2005, the band recorded their first full-length album, entitled ‘Waiter: You Vultures!’ on Fearless Records with producer Casey Bates (Gatsby’s American Dream). Fittingly, Gatsby lead singer Nic Newsham can be found singing on several of the album’s tracks. Hopefully the two bands will tour together soon, in order to bring the collaboration to a live setting.
‘Waiter: You Vultures!’ is out in stores now. Portugal is currently on tour in the South, going East, but should definitely be checked out next time they come through California. Keep yourself updated with what’s going on at their Web site: http://www.portugaltheman.net.