by Carey Murphy & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & P & lt;/span & ortland-by-way-of-Wasilla, Alaska, avant-indie rockers Portugal.The Man perform at the Big Dipper on Wednesday. And investing time in the live show might be the only way to answer the obvious questions that linger from the earliest investigations. Like, what's the story with that name? Are the song titles on their debut Waiter: You Vultures! ridiculous just for the sake of being ridiculous? The band is clearly ambitious with their impossible-to-categorize sound. One moment, lots of guitars bend through seductive keyboards that are layered on a minimalist percussive background; the next, thundering drums lead the way for bass-forward rockers. Such a diverse product suggests one of two things. The more positive: the band has too many simultaneous interests and invests these interests experimentally. The more negative: the band has no idea what the hell they want. The live show, as always, will be the litmus test.
All the hipster rags and Web sites that keep readers knee-deep in the next big thing have tagged Portugal.The Man as the breath-of-fresh-air savants of ought-six so far. Big praise, and the more you hear, the harder it is to disagree. The band's Web site chronicles the joys of the current tour, a whimsical extension of the tomfoolery of their biography. If I may quote for a moment: "prepare to bear witness to the aurora borealis of electronic sound that is portugal.the man. hailing from the arctic wastelands of alaska and the [sic] mountiany mountains of oregon, these glacial hike hardened warriors craft a musical tundra unlike that heard in the sonic botulism of everyday life." Aurora Borealis of electronic sound? Sonic botulism? Punctuation choices aside, the band either takes itself way too seriously or not seriously enough. At this point in their career, neither is really a problem. At some point, though -- especially if they impress people at their South by Southwest slot -- being cute just won't be enough.
As for the sound, if you're comfortable with bands as diverse as Portishead, Gatsby's American Dream, Blood Brothers, Flaming Lips, and the Faint, there's no reason to expect you won't enjoy the Man. Singer-guitarist John Gourley's voice is ethereally wispy, a fine complement to the theatricality of songs like "AKA M80 the Wolf" and "Kill Me the King." But that meditative sound can grow into something fierce and animalistic, something dangerous and explosive. Along these lines, "Stables and Chairs" rocks and rocks, the instruments barely containing the rawness of the vocals. For extended listening pleasure in this regard, try "Marching With 6."
The hope for any music fan, of course, is that a band's live show transcends whatever serenity exists on the record. With far more time and space to expand the songs beyond the parameters set on Waiter, Portugal.The Man could transform the fairly limited confines of the Big Dipper into an arena of gargantuan noise. If there is a critique to be made regarding the album, it's that the band seems too reserved. Just when things could explode, the songs take unexpected turns. And that suggests the band knows more about what they're doing than I do. Not a big surprise, mind you. But I'm hoping for surprises. And I hate to be disappointed.
Portugal.The Man at the Big Dipper with Fear Before the March of Flames, Circle Takes the Square, Fire When Ready and Versus the Mirror on Wednesday, March 29, at 7 pm. Tickets: $9; $10, at the door. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.