Portico Quartet, Baltic Fleet: The Kazimier, Liverpool


Portico Quartet hoisted themselves off the coffee table and onto the top table with a fine performance, Getintothis’ Harry Sumnall revels in a night of electronic mastery.

While Baltic Fleet’s sound is almost unique in Liverpool, they’re part of a growing contemporary UK motorik scene, which includes fellow luminaries Eat Lights Become Lights, Warm Digits, and forerunners Fujiya & Miyagi.
Less trippy than their North American counterparts (Food Pyramid, Bitchin Bajas, CAVE and the like), they advance the eternally fascinating NEU! template sufficiently to distinguish themselves, but perhaps are more akin to the proto-New Wave revisionism of Gunter Schickert and Joachim Witt than Dinger and Rother’s original kosmische pioneers.
Tonight their set is simple, not a weakness in itself, but is missing the layers that made Towers such a deserving GIT Award winner.
Paul Fleming on keyboards and sequencer is of course the central focus of the band, but you get the feeling that tonight, maybe his heart is not in it; it’s an early show, people are only just starting to arrive, it’s not the Royal Festival Hall, and there’s little connection with the audience.
Baltic Fleet at the Kazimier, Liverpool
When it works it’s great. March of the Saxons is just as cool as on record, and there’s a neat set closing cover of Daft Punk’s Da Funk, but as is so often the case with bands relying on pre-recorded beats, the lack of spontaneity and variation really limits the freedom of the live performers.
Mark McKenny adds an extra dimension on the guitar, and Keith McKnight faithfully reproduces Baltic Fleet’s recorded bass, but live electronic performance often works best when it escapes the restrictions of carefully rehearsed loops and structures, and the band tonight never really let go.
In contrast, Portico Quartet aren’t a band who have previously impressed us with their albums. Their Gilles Peterson friendly jazz sound is just too polished for our liking.
Sure, the playing and production are perfect, but it doesn’t take us anywhere that a dozen other bands can’t.
However, tonight is a total wake up call. This is a band who really come alive in performance, and whereas it might not lead you to reassess their recorded output, Getintothis spent most of the evening captivated and genuinely impressed.
Mainly drawing from 2012’s eponymous album with the addition of a few new songs, Portico Quartet present a semi-improvised, slowly evolving, hypnotic, and incredibly rich tapestry of sound.
Portico Quartet at the Kazimier, Liverpool
Songs typically developed from a few simple initial ideas to a full-on assault, drawing comparison with classic post rock – Spiritualized or Tortoise in their pomp – and at times it was impossible to distinguish individual instruments in the searing white light of sound.
This wasn’t unnecessarily overwhelming, as is the habit of too many bands with too few ideas, and importantly, was underpinned by a consistent groove that meant that dancing, of the style last seen at the Pontrhydygroes Psilocybin festival in 1979, even broke out at one point. It was also nice to see a band so willing to embrace technology.
Drummer/percussionist Duncan Bellamy drove the set forward with his improvised beats and loops, and with the addition of creative acoustic/e-drum playing, emphasised the importance of the human in electronic performance.
Keir Vine’s Hang Drum is no expensive gimmick, and is put to good effect, most notably on Rubidium, a consistent mesmerising motif, that although at times was in danger of suffering the fate of Katherine Craster’s hyper-reflective Centipede, managed to sustain the riff over 10+ minutes.
Milo Fitzpatrick has a bass playing style that has just the right level of sparseness, and provided a nifty counterpoint to some of the triggered synth bass underpinning many of the tracks (although it must be noted that our bass purist gig companion almost left the building after he picked up electric guitar at one point).
The final member of the quartet, saxophonist Jack Wyllie, adds long gliding (and effected) lines, and wasn’t afraid to hang back and take his time.
Corneila with Portico Quartet at the Kazimier, Liverpool
As is always the case with the best live performers, and at the risk of descending into cliché, it was the synergy between members which was most beguiling and ensured that Portico Quartet retain an interest beyond many of their coffee table contemporaries.
Mid set saw a brief two song guest appearance from singer Cornelia, which, obvious talent aside, interrupted the flow of the performance, and the band unnecessarily mutated into a slick R&B backing band, which really threw us for a loop. Perhaps that was the point, but it was so incongruous as to be distracting.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Nata Moraru.
Further reading on Getintothis:

GIT Award 2013: Winners Baltic Fleet on Yoko Ono, Royal Festival Hall and more.
Liverpool International Music Festival 2013: What Getintothis learnt feat. Portico Quartet.
Public Service Broadcasting, Baltic Fleet: The Kazimier, Liverpool