Portishead: Roseland NYC live - 1997 (a DVD/album review)

Running time: ~93 minutes. Rated PG, but there's also an "exempt from classification" sticker.1

Technical features:

The concert

Portishead, live at the Roseland Ballroom, NYC. I'd consider this a "best of", as well as a live album, as it's the better tracks from both their self-titled and Dummy. There's a 17-piece violin group, trombones, violas, cellos, and a whole pile more instruments playing that gives it a very big sound. This was the first Portishead album I bought (on CD, in late 2001), and the rest of them sound... "weaker" by comparison. I didn't even know that there was a DVD of it until a few months ago, when Xenex told me that JB-HiFi had a pile of them in stock.

The only other live music DVD I have is Underworld's Everything, Everything (probably not the best to compare with, but eh.). The Portishead one seems a lot less distant, with the cameras wandering though the performers while they play, cutting to closeups of the crowd, but at the loss of a "professional" feel. The video is somewhat grainy, but I don't think it would feel right with crystal-clear imagery. The spaces between tracks are filled with colour washed footage of New York, and there's even an improv hip hop piece about halfway through the set list. If you're a Portishead fan, you'll want this (or you already have it). If you're thinking about buying a Portishead album, this is probably the best one to get.

And hey, it's worth the price just to see Beth sneeze champagne while trying to drink and laugh at the same time.

  1. humming
    The violins set up a nice theremin-esque sound at the start of this one, with John Baggot providing backing on the keyboards. Geoff Barrow seems to set off the main part of the song with his decks, but you can't see any of the guitarists in the shot, so I'm not sure.
  2. cowboys
    Synth, guitars (with the chorus pedal firmly pressed) down, and Geoff doing some background scratching. Beth's vocals are radically different than in the last song, managing to sound anguished without being over-done.
  3. all mine
    Baritone/alto saxophones, trombone, and two trumpets give it a "big band" feel. Beth's vocals, are, as always, excellent.
  4. half day closing
    Bass guitar intro, with violins just on the edge of hearing (honestly, you wouldn't know if the camera wasn't pointed at them). The vocals are fed through some sort of weird reverb/compression filter, giving them a metallic edge.
  5. over
    Starts off with just Beth and Adrian on acoustic guitar, before Clive Dreamer starts drumming. Geoff picks up later on with some scratching, and the keyboards kick in.
  6. only you
    Heavy, plodding bass guitar to start, with Geoff's scratching starting off the other instruments. Beth spends the entire song singing with a lit cigarette in her hand.
  7. seven months
    Nice violins at the beginning, with a sort of funky guitar. The vocals seem to be fed through the same filter used on Half Day Closing. Excellent distorted guitar work near the end from Adrian.
  8. numb
    Quick fly-through of the stage, before cutting to footage of the equipment being placed. This track doesn't seem to have been an actual concert one, as the band are mostly focused on individually (that grin on Adrian's face fucking scares me), and you can't see an audience. Jumps to piano/double bass bit and some hip hop at the end.
  9. undenied
    Some backstage footage here, descriptions of the audio setup, before moving on to concentrate on the performers. Somewhat, anyway. There's some grainy footage of some New York streets thrown in, too.
  10. mysterons
    The annoying "ticking" drum beat on the album version, while still present, doesn't sit in the foreground and distract you from the rest of the song. There doesn't appear to be a theremin lurking anywhere on stage, so I'm guessing that the creepy alien noises were done with a combination of violins and some samples scratched by Geoff.
  11. sour times
    A fast, upbeat, almost jazzy version of the track. I prefer this one to the album version. Both Geoff and Clive play drums on this (with an excellent solo at the end), while Andy Smith (their other DJ) does the turntable work.
  12. elysium
    Geoff jumps back on the decks, Beth picks up a guitar, and they start playing again. The closeups of Beth's vocals look so serious until you notice Adrian chewing gum in the background with a huge smile on his face.
  13. glory box
    Nice and mellow; the crowd seems to love this one. Beth's vocals are less extreme than on the album version, which seems to work better.
  14. roads
    Initially feels quite sad, but picks up at the end.
  15. strangers
    The band really get into this one, and the crowd is up and bouncing around. A great song to "finish" with. Lots of nice footage of the crowd, and a few words from Beth right a the end.
  16. western eyes
    Run backstage to have a beer and a smoke, then break out the champagne and hit the trombonist to up for a quick solo. The song starts playing just as the credits roll.

Beth Gibbons: vocals, guitar - Geoff Barrow: decks, drums - Adrian Utley: moog, guitar, kabassa - John Baggot: keyboards, piano - Jim Barr: bass, double bass - Clive Dreamer: drums, percussion - Andy Smith: decks - and others.

The short films

These were available on VHS, separate from the concert footage, but I guess there was enough room left on the DVD to include them.

  • road trip
    Looks like they put a camera on a motorbike and rode it around for a bit, fading to a new scene when the old one got boring. The music is a very, very scratched-out instrumental version of Only You, and it gets annoying very, very quickly. As much as I like scratching, I can't stand five minutes of the same thirty seconds played over and over again.
  • wandering star
    Concert footage from their 1995 Seattle show mixed with stuff from inside a tour bus and some shots of buildings. Kinda cool.
  • to kill a dead man
    I can't really say much about this one without spoiling it (curses!). Basically, it's a spy movie about an assassination, and what happens afterwards, starring some of the people from Portishead (mostly Beth and Adrian). The song is called, funnily enough, 'theme from "to kill a dead man" '.

The video clips

I've only watched these once each, and only because I've never seen them on TV. They just seem more like filler material than anything else.
  • numb
  • sour times
  • all mine
  • over
  • only you


Oh, and it's available on CD and vinyl (LP), too. The tracks are in a slightly different order, and there's less of them, but there's nothing different otherwise. Listey thing:

  1. humming
  2. cowboys
  3. all mine
  4. mysterons
  5. only you
  6. half day closing
  7. over
  8. glory box
  9. sour times
  10. roads
  11. strangers

1 Australian rating. The American rating is "NR". There is, oddly enough, no "exempt" sticker on the copy I bought from the same JB store on January 5, 2004.

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