ICA – November 25th
Portico’s evolutionary capabilities were at their most apparent with this year’s Living Fields LP. The band took an altogether different sonic trajectory following the departure of Keir Vine, creating a record of subtle beauty from the blank canvas they allowed themselves. Within the characterless, black-washed walls of the ICA, on the first night of their two-night residency in the capital, Portico are once again given the opportunity to sculpt their own landscape.
Their fourth album – and first under the Portico guise – was one categorised by ethereal detail and heavy, pulsating swells, yet left with enough space to be embellished in live performance. The vocals of Joe Newman (Alt-J), Jamie Woon and Jono McCleery – the latter of which performs on the majority of tracks at this show – also provided a distinctly human front to the murky depths of electronica that Portico found themselves occupying.
Tonight though, from the moment McCleery’s vocal on opening track ‘Living Fields’ arrives heavily distorted through a vocoder, there’s a distinct lack of that human quality. His vocal doesn’t remain affected for the most part of the show, but in those opening moments it sets the tone for an evening that feels quite robotic from almost start to finish. The dexterity of their performance and the textures that their instrumentation create are undoubtedly interesting, but over the hour and a quarter spent on stage, that lack of emotion in their presence borders on uncomfortable at times. The barrier between artist and performer has rarely felt so gaping, and the lack of communal connection can leave you feeling somewhat alone at times.
The scattered crowd are perhaps a significant factor in this, and given the space within the audience it’s a little surprising that there was ever the need to play two shows. However, Portico’s performance rarely comes close to wowing. Time and time again, the tracks set out their territory without reaching the highest points – tracks build and grow but never truly kick in to gear. The result is something that’s never as spectacular as you know it could be.
A cover actually proves the most euphoric point of the evening – a unique take on Arthur Russell’s ‘This Is How We Walk On The Moon’ played out through three sections, each building on what’s gone before and maximising Portico’s immersive potential. It emphasises how low key what sits around this interpretation feels. Whilst Living Fields remains a gorgeous record for home listening, tonight’s showing suggests that it needs to be taken on further in order to fill a space like this – the lack of intimacy in its performance making a record so full of warmth feel more than a touch cold.
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