The second half of our weekend of music was on Saturday, the 19th of July. When we were booking our time here we had noticed that a lot of the places on Airbnb were booked during the weekend of the 18th and 19th, which is part of why we ended up staying outside of downtown for the week. Shane eventually found out that the Mares Vivas Music Festival was taking place in Gaia (just across the river from Porto) the 17th - 19th of the month, and that Portishead was headlining the final night.
I've been a huge Portishead fan for so long that I can lay claim to a worn out cassette tape of their debut that warbled and warped from years of being played over and over inside my parents' hot Ford Taurus. They have never played anywhere near the places I have lived, and are notoriously reclusive. To say that I was thrilled about the timing of their show and my trip to Porto is an understatement.
Shane and I have been to more than our fair share of music festivals together, from Sasquatch in Washington State to the Governor's Ball in NYC, and many in between. The dynamic is usually pretty similar: masses of people in streams of movement to various stages, with the occcasional salmon saying "excuse me" as he or she bumps past people in the opposite direction of the flow. There are always food truck areas with long lines, merch tents, random vendors, and overpriced beer.
We made our way to the festival via the metro and a very crowded bus full of festival-goers. Once we were inside the park that abutted the Douro River, we noticed that there was no flow of people - the food trucks and beer lines snaked in all directions, including into the center of the pathway that ran from one end of the park to the other. Getting from one point to another was next to impossible.
The crowd of people was absolutely massive. The park itself was long and narrow, and Portishead was the night's big draw. They were scheduled to start at 11. We decided to get a beer and make our way toward the front of the crowd once the prior act was finished.
We eased our way to the middle, and towards the front of the sea of people, wishing we knew how to say "excuse me" in Portuguese. A light rain started just as the tech crew was finishing its setup, and the wandering lights from the stage illuminated the mist over the crowd in hard-edged swaths of white, pink, and blue.
Their set was as quiet as one would expect it to be in a music hall - not at all the typical blast of sound usually featured at outdoor festivals with so many attuned ears. Beth Gibbons wore jeans and a baggy pullover sweatshirt, which made the whole scene seem like an intimate glimpse into a recording or practice session, not the arena-sized show that it actually was. (The prior act, The Gift, featured a female singer decked out in a glittered unitard, hot pink hair, and a crown who ran back and forth across the stage to distract from her less than average singing.)
Gibbons' voice was a lethargic siren that floated through the drizzle and cut above the scratchy trip-hop synths and lazy drum beats her bandmates created. A screen behind the band showed intimate shots from the stage in high contrast 8 color grayscale with visual noise a la Max Headroom - a closeup of Geoff Barrow's shoe on his distortion pedal, Gibbons' face from six inches away, fingers on a keyboard. The snare was grainy and buzzy; every sound that came through the speakers and every image on the screen contributed to the feeling that we were watching a movie about a dystopian future, and this is what music is like.
Once the set was over, and they had pacified the crowd by giving it what it wanted (hearing drunk people scream the lyrics to "Glory Box" is one of the worst cases of unintended irony I have ever witnessed at a concert) we started back toward the middle of the park. I had to concentrate to keep my claustrophobia from kicking in. No one was moving, and the packed sardines of bodies seemed infinite.
When we were able to breathe again, we agreed that Joss Stone and all night EDM DJs were not really what we were in the mood to do, so we found our way to a bus and rode back into the city. We were able to get off in somewhat familiar territory, and walked back up to our apartment through the slick winding streets of the old city.
words + video by Kara