Putting Grouplove and Portugal. The Man together makes for an interesting bill. Both of them have found reasonable success, but it’s unlikely they share the same fan base – the former opting for more sun-soaked hippie pop and the latter more catered for LSD-tripping hippie rock. Yes – both within that hippie ethos, but markedly different crowds as a result.
Putting them out at the Sound Academy was another odd choice, given the room was only about half full for Grouplove (and considerably emptier for Portugal. The Man, who closed the show.) But fan base politics aside, both bands took the opportunity to prove to Toronto that they can, in fact, handle themselves on bigger stages. They deserve to be up there, too.
Opening the bill was Oregon band Typhoon. Let me get one thing out of the way first: there’s no way anyone in that band is making any money. If you thought the 11-piece group might have left a couple of members at home to hold batten down the hatches, you would have been mistaken – the entirety of the sizeable band filling the Sound Academy’s usually roomy stage.
Musically, Typhoon make the type of indie rock that you wish Modest Mouse still did. It was energetic lyrical bursts that were flung out over the crowd as horns and strings helped to swell the band’s instrumentals to dizzying heights. A lot to take in – but fun to see it all come together.
Coming together is also something that colours much of Grouplove’s musical output. It’s not just because of the aforementioned hippie culture they’re close associated with either. The band itself has grown leaps and bounds in its musical ability – now embracing theatricality head-on and bringing a sound to match it.
They were happy to be back in Toronto, they told the crowd between songs clearly written for festival settings. The music is big, bold, and interestingly all over the place in its influences. Where certain numbers like “Hippy Hill” recalled the Summer of Love, others ventured more into 90’s stoner punk (“Spun”), Foster The People sounding pop (“Tongue Tied”), and – on “Slow” – throbbing rave territory that culminated in a dance around the bass drum.
A cover of Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” landed surprisingly well, as did “Borderlines and Aliens” – a song that undoubtedly packs in some hints of Nirvana’s “In Bloom”.
“All we want to do is inspire you guys to create,” vocalist Hannah Hooper told the audience. “We’re a dying race of creative people.” You would never be able to guess that watching the band on stage. It was an exciting show from a band that’s kept busy exploring their musicality. It’s nice to see Grouplove is both willing and able to pull it off, and it’ll be interesting to see what else they manage to pull into their repertoire.
A good chunk of the room cleared out following Grouplove – an absolutely shame given just how spectacular Portugal. The Man is. It might be odd to read on paper that they started with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2”, but live it was an effective way to bring the audience under a collective cause while also casting away an disbelief in the band’s ability. These are four guys that know how to play.
They’re the type of band that I’m guessing we’re going to look back on and think, in hindsight: “Why weren’t they bigger?” I’m going to guess some of it has to do with complexity – what they put on record and on stage is, admittedly, by no means easy listening. You need to dig deep to listen to Portugal. The Man, and it can be uncomfortable. They payoff is huge, though, because their talent is evident. Get past the lack of hooks (though they are there if you need them – as heard on “Hip Hop Kids”) and embrace the psychedelic meandering. It’s a rewarding experience.
Where Grouplove craft festival bangers, Portugal. The Man play more like a long acid trip. It’s an mix that makes sense when you experience it but on paper – and even in your headphones – probably sounds a little weird. It’s okay though: both bands are probably perfectly okay with being described as such.