Portishead’s new release as a time capsule

As I sat in a crowded coffee shop on the coldest April day in recent memory, thinking about what I’d write for this blog entry while sipping tea, I continually drew a blank. Deciding to take a break, I recalled that yesterday was the release day of Portishead’s Third, the British group’s first studio release in over ten years and went over to pick it up from the nearest record store. As soon as I popped the album into the stereo, I simultaneously had an overwhelming sense of nostalgia (particularly stemming from the raw, desolate quality of Beth Gibbons’ singing) and a feeling that the music I was listening to was of epic quality and represented the future — the kind of album that music fans will be listening to thirty years from now and still appreciating.

In a way, Portishead are the music industry’s time capsule, coming off of such a long, self-imposed hiatus that they have shared their creations with a music industry that barely resembles that of 1997, the year of the band’s last, self-titled studio album. Despite being a group known for their reluctance at being in the public eye — Gibbons refuses all media requests — the band has had some interesting things to say about the changing landscape of music in recent interviews.

When their new album leaked to a number of bit torrent and file-sharing programs in early March, the band was quick to voice their displeasure, and their record label, Island, was quick to shut down the efforts. “We’re definitely pissed about it,” said guitarist Adrian Utley to MTV News. “But I suppose there’s nothing you can do about it. You can only hope that it’s not going to fuck everything up for you, because I think, in this world, there are downloaders and people who buy. I don’t know if you can convince downloaders to buy. If we don’t sell records, we can’t make any more records. We’re just not rich people.”

Though this response to the changing landscape of leaking albums is common among many musicians, it is a stark contrast to less-established acts, many of whom also voice a certain degree of frustration over losing funds, but also appreciate the increase in buzz that it provides by more efficiently meeting customer demands. Frustration with the “old-fashioned, out of date, suffering entity” was emphasized by Nick Thorburn, of Islands, in an interview in the UW student paper, the Badger Herald previewing their show on campus earlier this month. “It’s basically people wanted to hear the record, and we weren’t able to meet the demand (sigh) and get it out to people in time and, you know. The record industry is a little slow to adjust, I think, but… We had a deadline for when the record was gonna be released, and we’re adhering to that deadline. So, the people who wanna listen to it before that, I guess, have that choice now. It’s inevitable.

In addition to the growing proliferation of music piracy post-Napster, Gibbons and company have also entered unfamiliar territory in terms of the blogosphere of amateur and recreational music reviewers — an entirely new force to reckon with, in addition to the already vast array of music journalists in traditional media. Just a quick search of the Google Blogs database for “Portishead Third” wielded over 12,000 results — 12,000 self-anointed music critics and dedicated music fans. Now, thousands of reviews can be written by bloggers on leaked tracks; establishing a reputation for the album before it even hits record stores, a trend which comes with many pros and cons.

Portishead also bring with them an interesting perspective on touring, often the center focus for recording musicians. Recent interviews have hinted at a certain sense of burnout among the band, even after the long hiatus, as the group’s recent blog-approved Coachella performance will reportedly be their only U.S. appearance of the year. “There’s nothing mysterious or sinister about it. We just don’t want to keep touring forever,” said Utley in a recent New York Magazine interview. “The more touring you do, the more it informs your music, but it can also kind of thrash the fuck out of you so you don’t really want to see anybody else in the band ever again.

“To us it seems fucking ridiculous,” continued Geoff Barrow. “We want to do something creative and interesting, but really, when you play live, you actually just end up on the same stage as fucking Limp Bizkit … You just keep thinking, What the fuck are we doing that for? Even more so now that we’re playing Coachella, in the middle of the fucking desert with loads and loads of people, and Prince after us. What the fuck are we doing that for?”

And what could this all mean for the future? How much longer will established musicians find it personally and economically rewarding to extensively tour outside of festivals? With the growing impact of blogs and album leaks, how much longer will albums be released in tangible forms at all? Are Portishead just being pretentious Brits? Comment with your thoughts.

–Joe Erbentraut, True Endeavors Communications and Public Relations Intern

Media Roundup: Tegan and Sara rock Coachella, and more!

Coachella, the mother of all alternative music festivals, took place this past weekend, and even if you weren’t fortunate enough to take in the cornucopia of sounds from the California deserts, a number of outlets are providing extensive video, audio and blogging coverage. In addition to the headline-grabbing indie coronation of Prince and the chilling comeback performance of Portishead, a number of performers coming soon to Madison also made their mark.

Tegan and Sara, performing at the Barrymore next Tuesday, May 6, first gained a moment in the spotlight three years ago on a small stage of Coachella and performed on a larger stage at this year’s festival. The Canadian twins continue to gain notoriety on a larger scale for their quirky stage banter and emotional songwriting, blogging a number of entries from the festival for RollingStone.com. Tegan and Sara are also just off the heels of an impressive performance last week of their current anthem, “The Con” on the Tonight Show, viewable below:

Taking a break from the midst of a tour that is selling out nearly every theater it touches, The Swell Season (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) also performed an alluring set; a preview of what’s to come when the duo plays the Overture Center on Monday, June 16. The “Once” stars were recently featured in the San Francisco Chronicle discussing their newfound fame. Recent acts passing through town this spring, including Man Man, Vampire Weekend, Stars and Jens Lekman also played the festival.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are currently touring around the globe and have been grabbing headlines from a decision earlier this year to part ways with its record label, RCA. They are currently going it alone, looking toward independent release options in the near future. BRMC will be hitting the High Noon Saloon with guests The Duke Spirit on Saturday, May 3.

Performing at the Annex the Sunday night following BRMC, Ra Ra Riot will be splitting a bill with The Little Ones for a $10 show — likely the last time Madison music fans will be able to see the up-and-coming indie-string-pop troupe, recently interviewed on GrooveShark.com, in such an intimate venue.

In other news, we are happy to announce that Madison fave Lyle Lovett will be passing through down this summer — on Sunday, July 13, at Overture Hall. The Capitol Times wrote a nice preview of the show, for which tickets went on sale this past Saturday.

Finally, in case you missed a few of the recent shows in Madison, here’s a few reviews to find out what you missed:

“[Colin] Meloy charmed a modest but enraptured crowd at the Barrymore Theater Wednesday night with his quirk, his humor and his unbelievable solo chops.” — Wisconsin State Journal

“Decemberists shows are giddily geeky affairs, full of high-energy, literary-minded rock songs that draw the audience in with singalongs and other audience participation bits. By comparison, Meloy’s solo shows are less of a three-ring circus and more of a friendly conversation between singer and his audience.” — The Capitol Times

The [New] Pornographers nearly had that show stolen right out from under them by opening act Okkervil River, which played a flat-out amazing hourlong opening set. The Pornographers have been touring with the Austin roots-rock group for about two weeks, and you have to think that following that every night forces Newman and company to raise their game even higher.” — The Capitol Times

“This was my first time hearing material from Challengers live, which really cemented my appreciation for that record. I’ll concede the stage looks a little bare bones sans Neko [Case] and Dan, but that didn’t stop the band from putting on a great power pop rock show.” — Muzzle of Bees

And that’s it for now. Tickets for many of the shows mentioned above are still available from TrueEndeavors.com. See you at the shows!