Last night, Dinkytown's Varsity Theater was about 10 guests away from being sold out, filled to capacity by the Twin Cities' indie faithful who had been lured out of their warm apartments with the promise of catching a live set from Alaska-by-way-of-Oregon rockers Portugal. The Man (the period's not a typo, just intentionally funky punctuation). Youthful, restless, and clothed in acres of plaid, the crowd was eager just to catch sight of keyboardist Ryan Neighbors, hooting and shouting as he played some shimmering synth pads while the rest of the band got settled in the dark.
Though the stage was brightly lit for openers the Dig and Port O'Brien (who played a particularly well-received set), P.TM favored a dimmer, smokey setting, making sure that the few lights they had set up produced the maximum effect on the kids that rushed out to their car to get stoned in between bands (and it worked--more than a couple got a little geeked out when the lasers came on).
Lead singer and guitarist John Gourley looked almost shy, his face obscured by a cap pulled way down and shrouded by a hoodie, standing sideways at the microphone and offering no introduction before starting into a slow-burn rendition of "And I." Completely unafraid to venture away from the album version, P.TM poured on the dub-flavored delay and filled out their sound with copious amounts of Hammond organ, giving Gourley's falsetto a sheen of blue-eyed soul amidst the swaths of acid-fried rock. Though the band has a new album on the way (American Ghetto, due out in March), they weren't solely interested in pimping recent material, reaching back through their discography to deliver some extended takes on favorites like "My Mind" and "The Sun." But, in spite of all the jamming, nothing sounded loose; each airtight change came off as a fluid and natural testament to the group's technical skill.
Even as they ventured into the realm of classic '70s rock, P.TM kept one foot in the present, fusing new and old touchstones into something that they owned and effortlessly bent to their will. In a showstopping move, the band launched into David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream" before breaking it down into a scrap of MGMT's "Weekend Wars," then evolving that combination into an apocalyptic, clattering psychedelic freakout. Likewise, the band's encore was a version of their song "Church Mouth" injected with a few verses cribbed from Three Dog Night's "One"; there were no full covers, only malleable bits and pieces, but the audience was ecstatic to hear some favorites sewn so neatly into P.TM's original material.
Though a couple of crowd-pleasing singles were omitted (really, no "Lay Me Back Down"?), the band gave an uniquely impressive performance, then made it a point to thank Minneapolis for turning out in such large numbers. After word gets around, it seems likely that the numbers will be even larger the next time they come to town. Can't we just go ahead and reserve our tickets now?