alt-J & Portugal. The Man transfix San Diego

The Pechanga Arena in San Diego was lined up at all entrances on Friday, March 25th for a mashup made in heaven starring two of the biggest names in alternative rock — alt-J and Portugal. The Man. Both bands have made their stake on the radio, on festival bills and, now, on a co-headlining arena tour, cementing their mark on this era of music.

We went to the show obviously for the bands and the music, but also to just rock out live with our peers… something we have been so deprived of.

What really blew me away about both artist’s performance was the light and stage production. Every element came together to completely immerse the audience into an experience unlike any other. 
As the arena house music dimmed the lights, smoke began to flood the stage. The audience began to ricochet the arena with screams. A familiar giggle over the loudspeaker was heard and Beavis and Butthead appeared on the screen, doing their rip on Portugal. The Man’s smash hit “Feel It Still”. The audience exploded in laughter. A curtain of lights in front of the stage appeared first and, then, the silhouettes of Portugal. The Man.

We never heard a speaking voice or saw them in clear light, but the communication they sent through the stadium was clear. In fact, they even put big, simple text messages on the giant LED screen backing them, such as “Stay Classy, San Diego!” and then, shortly after, “Sorry, we try not to put up too many Anchorman quotes”, which honestly they could have done all night. I think the entire audience would have been fine with it. A cameraman followed the guys around the stage giving us up-close views of the band members through major distortion and grainy film projected on the LED, leaving us with the group’s outline for the entirety of their set.

The sound, oh man, the sound was just incredible.

The true sound reminded us the talent behind PTM’s hit albums. In addition to playing their hits “Feel It Still”, “Modern Jesus“, “Live in the Moment” and their latest single “What, Me Worry?”, they slayed a number of fantastic covers by Nirvana, Pantera, Pink Floyd and my personal favorite the song, “Day Man” from the hit TV show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. They certainly share a fanbase, because it was extremely well-received.

The start of the alt-J set was a whole different level of energy. The room was dark and quiet, and what appeared came very subtly and artistically. A circle of candles appeared, almost like a hologram on the raised stage, as lead vocalist/guitarist Joe Newman opened so softly and beautifully with “Bane”. Soon, the other two members — Thom Sonny Green (on drums) and Gus Unger-Hamilton (on keyboard/vocals) — were revealed, along with the entire LED panel stage setup, giving us the impression that each member has his own box.

Throughout the show, we are absolutely transformed into alternate dimensions: over mountains, through the oceans, some sort of acid dream, etc. After saying goodnight, the Ukrainian flag appeared, with responsive thunder from the audience… the band returned shortly for what we can only assume is the encore, beginning with “Fuck Putin”. The crowd agreed. Something about the last three hits — “Left Hand Free”, “Hard Drive Gold” and “Breezeblocks” — felt like an experience that we, as an audience, bonded over. You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to see these two incredible alt powerhouses together. The duo will continue their tour though April 17th, where they will conclude in Toronto, Ontario. Grab your tickets before it’s too late!

Photography by Franny Kovacs

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