On Friday, March 4th, Tampa Bay was blessed by the arrival of two indie rock legends, right on the University of South Florida campus. This night, the Yuengling Center basketball arena was about to be blown away from the performances of Portugal. The Man and alt-J. With beers in their right hand and their left hands free, the crowd was packing in and ready for a night of cheering and dazzling lights.
Opening up the night was the Lords of Portland themselves, Portugal. The Man. Originally from Wasilla, Alaska and now based in Portland, Oregon, the band had its origins in 2002 when guitarist/vocalist John Baldwin Gourley and bassist Zachary Scott Carothers formed a band in high school called Anatomy of a Ghost, with Gourley having a side project that would later form into Portugal. The Man. By the summer of 2004, the band had moved to Portland and began recording demos, with their debut record Waiter: “You Vultures!” releasing on January 24th, 2006. Since then, the band has released six studio albums, many receiving high recognition and awards, along with several EPs and accompanying albums to their studio lineup. Although the group’s members have changed over the years, their music still remains as energetic and unique as ever. While Gourley and Carothers still remain as stable members, the current lineup also consists of Kyle O’Quinn on the keyboard, Eric Howk on guitar, Jason Sechrist on drums, and Zoe Manville on the backing vocals.
As with all shows, Portugal. The Man likes to remind their fans that they live on stolen land, coming from their close relationship with the indigenous people of Alaska. Before they took the stage, the band welcomed Sheridan Murphy and Stuart Flores, coordinators of the American Indian Movement and the Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality, to come forth and tell the crowd about the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes of Florida, among others. After sharing their tearful but powerful message, the group took off the stage to welcome the Lords to the spotlight.
As the lights dimmed and smoke bellowed onto the stage, the screen behind flashed forth a live shot of the crowd from an on-stage cameraman. As the imagery was projected, Gourley and company strolled onto stage and kicked straight in with covers of “For Whom The Bell Tolls” by Metallica, “South of Heaven” by Slayer, and “Cowboys From Hell” by Pantera. Amping up the crowd with the sounds of screeching guitar notes and booming drums, the band immediately transitioned into “Live in the Moment” from their 2017 album Woodstock (QRO review) and then into another heavy hitter, “Creep in a T-Shirt” from 2013’s Evil Friends. Lit up by the board behind them, the group drifted over the stage like ghostly figures behind the heavy smoke that was emanating on the stage. Combining their own songs with covers, the band had the whole crowd, from floor to stands, up on their feet dancing away. Nearing the end of their set, the band played “Feel It Still” from the 2017 album, a single that landed them their first top chart position on the Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart. Following this world renowned hit, the band started their cover of “Another Brick In The Wall, Part Two” by Pink Floyd, and then making a seamless transition straight to the famous “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” from 2013.
As the band exited the stage, Gourley and the rest of the band gave a big thank you to the crowd, exiting the stage as an army of stage hands came on to setup the dazzling set of the night’s headliner.
Hailing from Leeds in the U.K., alt-J first formed in 2007 when guitarist/vocalist Joe Newman, drummer Thomas Stuart Green, and keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton met at Leeds University. Having gone through several names, the band finally formed their real name ∆, which is created from the Alt + J key sequence on a Mac computer. After releasing several EPs, the band finally produced their debut studio album An Awesome Wave on May 28th, 2012, which won multiple Gold and Platinum certifications, skyrocketing them to the top of the indie music world, and their track “Breezeblocks” from the album becoming one of their most recognizable songs. The band has since released three more studio albums, with their most recent one, The Dream, released on February 22nd, 2022. alt-J has become known for their use of puzzles with many of their album releases, and many of their songs, especially from 2017’s Relaxer (QRO review), featuring codes as well as post-modern lyrics that talk of historic subjects and pop culture references.
As the army of stagehands quickly finished setting up the stage, the curtain was dropped to reveal alt-J’s signature cube: large pieces of mesh combined with a frame of projectors that the band performs inside. Thinking the show was about to start and the band was already on stage, fans immediately roared in applause and cheers, but soon died down as many laughed at their realization. But their applause was quickly brought back as not long after the lights dimmed, as a red glow emitted below the risers of the stage revealed the band, as projections of candles slowly appeared around them one by one. The band first opened with “Bane” from their newest album as the candles formed around them and remained projected, but were swiftly “extinguished” from the screen as they moved into “Every Other Freckle” from 2014’s This Is All Yours. The band then moved out of their first opening songs to “In Cold Blood” and “Deadcrush” from their 2017 album, as a fluid projection of what appeared to be smoke surrounded them, with lights flashing occasionally behind them.
Newman and Unger-Hamilton’s iconic voices rang out through the stadium as their mesmerizing light show of a set captivated the audience. In between, the sweet, ringing notes of Unger-Hamilton’s glockenspiel would echo through the arena as he tapped each note from his side of the cube.
As the band moved towards the end of their set, they finished the main body out with “Taro” and “Dissolve Me” from their debut album. Saving the best for last, the band made one last entrance to the stage for their encore. Opening the encore with “Left Hand Free” from 2014, the arena was flooded with the combined voices of both Newman and the crowd singing the opening lines:
“Ain’t shady baby, I’m hot
Like the prodigal son
Pick a petal, eenie meenie minie mo, and flower
You’re the chosen one”
Green’s raw drum beats filled out into the arena air as the band entered the chorus of the song. Following “Left Hand Free”, the band moved into “Hard Drive Gold” from their most recent record, and finally closed out their set with one of the song’s that set them on their journey, “Breezeblocks”, as Newman sang out to a thunderous cacophony of yelling and cheering. As the crowd joined them in unison, the band finished out their set and gracefully climbed down from the risers of the stage, disappearing into the back as their stagehand army got to work breaking down the hypnotizing box.
With such an electric performance of enthralling visuals and renowned voices from both bands, the crowd waded into the night, while many lined up at the merch booth to grab one last memento. If Tampa had one message to give these two exalted bands, it would be: “Don’t wait up, come back ASAP!”
For Whom the Bell Tolls / South of Heaven / Cowboys From Hell
Live in the Moment
Creep in a T-Shirt
In Bloom (Nirvana cover)
Got It All (This Can’t Be Living Now) / God Gave Rock and Roll to You / Chug
What, Me Worry?
Evil Friends / Day Man
Floyd / KCY / Trend
Feel It Still
Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 (Pink Floyd cover)
Purple Yellow Red and Blue
Every Other Freckle
In Cold Blood
The Gospel of John Hurt
Left Hand Free
Hard Drive Gold