With a shift from the jazz of their quartet days on record, Portico deliver a similarly updated set to a small Kazimier crowd, Getintothis’ Patrick Clarke was there to reflect on music’s ever-changing face.
It’s nights like this that we really miss Mello Mello. The crowd for Portico at The Kazimier are enthusiastic, devoted even, but with what seems to be far less than 50 in attendance, for the most part sat metres from the stage on the steps toward the back of the main standing space, the atmosphere feels damaged by a pervasive sense of areas unfilled. Were that aforementioned absentee of the live circuit still available, it’d be the perfect venue for such a moderate yet faithful throng, its capacity ideal for such a turnout, and it’s here we see the true effects of such a loss.
Of course, there are similarly sized rooms across the city – Portico could probably provide an adequate crowd for The Zanzibar or Kitchen Street for example – but what made Mello so magnificent was more than a matter of space. There was a certain something in the air at the dearly departed that lent itself intrinsically in a way those venues don’t to gigs such as these – the left-field, the innovative, the unusual – and though The Kazimier shares it in many ways, it just can’t quite take hold with a band who just simply aren’t big enough.
Of course just because the band aren’t big enough to impose themselves on the room, that’s not to say they aren’t good enough, and it’d be excellent to see them treated to a space, or indeed the size of audience more suitable in which to work their magic, but the inconvenient truth is they’re left to a room that though devout, is more empty than full.
Snow Ghosts‘ support set is an even trickier prospect, but they still manage to give a strong account of themselves to those present to see them. Hannah Cartwright‘s vocals are appropriately haunting, in keeping with her group’s moniker, and adapt flexibly enough to suit her backing from Ross Tones and Oliver Knowles.
The Fleet takes the propulsion of Third era Portishead with Cartwright broodingly detached, while And The World Was Gone, their closer, is thicker, darker and sparser. With lyrical, and to an extent melodic inspirations from vintage British and Celtic folk, all their outings are entirely captivating at the very least, and would almost certainly be more so in more favourable conditions.
It’s still early in the evening when Portico take to the stage to energetic applause from the faithful, and deliver a set to match the significant stylistic shift that new album Living Fields – their first since dropping ‘quartet’ from their handle after the departure of Keir Vine – showed in its full immersion in their electronic exertions and the notable addition of semi-permanent vocalists; what seems a clean break from their former, jazzier selves.
Restored to a foursome by Jono McCleery, who joins the group throughout on James Blake-ish vocals, they rest heavily on new material – the majority of the new album getting an airing with McCleery present throughout. Unfortunately the aforementioned issue of space rears its head in terms of instilling proper atmospherics beyond a (not un-enjoyable) sense of calm, and it’s not helped by the fact the group remain stationary and perhaps even slightly disengaged on stage, leaving a hole by stepping back themselves towards the edges of the platform.
The fact is that Portico are essentially just a different band now, and whether that change is for better or worse is just a matter of preference. Creatively – and as musicians – they exhibit as much talent as ever, and though for some, this writer amongst them, it’s a great shame to see the loss of their jazzier leanings, the objective quality of their new material remains undeniable, and notably well-received by the die-hards.
It’s a perfectly enjoyable evening, and an excellent, if a little static, performance from the group themselves, yet there’s a lingering sense of what if? Portico prove themselves a band capable of something special – they have the ability, the dedication from their fans and the propensity to instill real atmospherics, they’re just not provided the right room.
It’s no criticism of the ever-wonderful Kazimier of course, just a matter of size, and an issue that yet-again highlights the uncertain future Liverpool faces for its venues. The Kaz itself, of course, is set for heartbreaking closure on New Year’s Day, and though new venues spring up around the Baltic Quarter and other fringes, we’re still losing something intrinsic from the heart of our musical community that it’s becoming increasingly unlikely to be recaptured, lent direct illustration by this night – a very good gig that really should have been something even better.
Photos by Getintothis’ Christopher Flack