They sound better live. When I saw “Portugal. The Man” at SOMA the first time a couple of years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I was thinking folksy indie-pop, the way they sound on their records. I listened for any thread that would link me to their studio versions, and I found none. In front of an audience, the band rejiggered arrangements, and they kicked harder and played louder than the songs on their albums.
And “Portugal. The Man”? I asked John Gourley about the name a couple of years ago, and he said it was an attempt to sound like something larger than the moment, sort of like Pink Floyd or Ziggy Stardust or Jethro Tull. Gourley also said that he had grown up in rural Alaska and was then exposed only to the cultural influences of the AM car radio or a television with rabbit ears. That explains why his first records had a pop-folk feel.
This year Portugal. The Man released their fifth studio album, American Ghetto, some of which was recorded here in San Diego. Ghetto has a solid feel of an indie-rock band that dabbles here and there with electronica. John Gourley still has a Beatle-esque voice (he says they were a huge influence), and the essence of Abbey Road is all over the single “The Dead Dog.” American Ghetto could end up being my favorite CD of the year.
But how will it sound live?
PORTUGAL. THE MAN: House of Blues,
Friday, October 29, 7 p.m. 619-299-2583. $14.50.