David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 346: Portishead (Glory Box)

May 1, 2024

Ah, the wonderful surprises that can still await me as I wind down this series.

Since Day One of this Pandemic Panoply, I've had a list of several hundred artists that I figured might be featured. It was never a list of 365, as I knew I would be triggered along the way by inspiration to write about some artists not on my initial list. This approach has resulted in blogs about Cher, Bobby Darin, Swan Silvertones, Paramore, The Cowsills, and Sublime (to name a few) that never would have been anticipated in April 2020. Thanks to SMC's Performing Arts department, I can now add Portishead, of all groups, to that list.

First off, I have heard of Portishead and figure at some point in the 90s I heard some of their music. Before this last week, I couldn't have told you anything about them, at best associating them, incredibly unfairly, with Phish because of the power of alphabetization and prominence of "sh" in the name. Luckily for me, the eclectic selections that come from SMC's annual Collage Concert reveal to me hidden treasures.

The Collage Concert, in itself, presents one of the coolest concepts I have ever known for live performance, non-stop performances by various bands, choirs, combos, and solo artists, seamlessly woven together through utilization of four distinct sections of our theater. This year, they managed to pull off 36 (yes, 36!) separate numbers in just over 2 hours, no intermission, no between song banter. Almost all of these numbers feature our students, but often are augmented by staff members and community members. It is such a production, that I suppose at the end they refer to it as the "Collapse Concert."

And it is eclectic, as I said earlier: Operatic numbers, show tunes, classical selections, jazz pieces, a ragtime number (thanks for taking me back to The Sting, all, and my mom's love of ragtime) and just enough pop music to satisfy the less-musically-broad minded among us. This year, perhaps because it was 36 total pieces, there seemed a lot more pop (often delivered in non-pop ways): Judy Collins' "Both Sides Now," Simon & Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair," The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" and "Blackbird," and Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline." There was even a Randy Newman song I didn't know ("When She Loved Me"), which as lovely as it was should have been the song I researched upon returning home.

Nope (although I still need to do that), the highlight for me was this smoky, lounge song that sounded vaguely familiar, one of our finest student singers, accompanied by a small band. The chorus was incredibly haunting, "give me a reason to be a woman," a lyric that danced around in my memory but that I couldn't place. The program was under my seat, so while I could have looked at the title or original artist, I didn't want to take my eye off of this band (or at least three of them). Because of the nature of the collage concept, they were set up in the nook stage left, directly in front of me, which meant I couldn't see the whole band. However, singer and bassist were in full view, and the pianist, while having his back to me, could still provide me great view lines of the slinky piano chords that fill out the song. I could see the neck of a guitar. In retrospect, I can't remember if I heard a percussionist/drummer, but can't imagine there would have been space. Figuratively, the bassist was filling a lot of it, a reminder of just how powerful a bass guitar can be.

Since then I have learned that the song is "Glory Box" by Portishead, and that the band was "Backpocket." Here is a link to their webpage. In fact, they are a five-piece band. If I had a link to their version of this song, it would be below, but I am happy enough to put a little plug in for them anyway. Madison, our student killed the vocals, and the rest of the band, not SMC students, pulled off a fantastic steamy ambiance.

Needless to say, in the five days since the concert, I have found and listened to Portishead's original version, which is truly electronic, drum loops and synthesizer lines, with a sample of Isaac Hayes' "Ike's Rap 2," which provides much of the fantastic bass line and the ghost-like keyboards. Beth Gibbons' vocals are scratchy, invoking the lounge act vibe that could make you think you were in a 1940s nightclub, especially with the exhausted femme fatale perspective of the lyrics: "I'm so tired of playing/playing with this bow and arrow/gonna give my heart away/leave it to the other girls to play/for I've been a temptress too long." Through it all resounds sustained lead guitar lines that amp up the atmosphere.

The song (both versions, since I am playing the original repeatedly) is now stuck in my head. So much so that I hurriedly add this to my song series, breaking my rule to never have consecutive songs be within 5 years of each other. In fact, it seems apt to note that "Glory Box" was released only two years after Dinosaur Jr's "Get Me," and not even a year past their biggest hit, "Feel The Pain." I love a world where "Feel The Pain" and "Glory Box" co-exist on radio stations; does such variety still occur within pop music?

Of course, here's the problem with being the chief academic officer at a school with performing arts. While I have spent five days listening to Portishead, I have also spent five days lamenting that space. Did we lose a drummer? Did the drummer have to be left out because our theater, in need of some improvements, just didn't have the room? I have worried about that piano, the same one that served a dozen other performances that night, including some incredible opera movements by one of our students. And I can only think, "damn, we need to get that bad boy replaced" (the piano, not the incredible pianist, although as a two-year school, we do lose our best talent way too soon). As well as the one tucked into the nook stage right. And probably the one on the main stage. And don't even get me started on the acoustic shell or cloud.

Excuse me while I slink back into the smoky bar and escape from my reality.

Portishead. "Glory Box." Dummy. Go! Beat, 1995. Link here.

Day 345: Dinosaur Jr. "Get Me"

Day 347: Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band "Still The Same"

See complete list here.