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Rarely Seen But Loudly Heard, Portishead Returns to Chicago

By Kim Bellware in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 12, 2011 9:20PM

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There are those artists whose faces (and songs, and merchandise) are so ubiquitous, you'd pay them to go away. Then there are those who acts who don't come around nearly enough; they take so long between albums (cough, eleven years, cough) you have to remind yourself that the band hasn't, in fact, broken up.

Though Portishead, is a great band that falls in that second category, we're not terribly distraught by their long bouts of silence: something we've always admired about the British trip-hoppers is their utter refusal to make shitty music.

More prolific bands may not actively set out on a quest to make garbage but when you have a high output, quality tends to get bumped out in favor of quantity (we're looking at your Bob Pollard, Ryan Adams). Portishead's entire existence, meanwhile, has been intentional and thoughtful--and if that means we spend 1997 to 2008 twiddling our thumbs and waiting for their next album, then tough titties. Besides, who would argue that Third didn't absolutely deliver?

The Bristol-based threesome, comprised of Geoff Barrow, Beth Gibbons and Adrian Utley, tours only a little more frequently than they record. With no new record to promote, tonight's stop in Chicago--Portishead's first in more than ten years--will likely feature an even sampling of their three studio albums (no complaints here).

With roughly fewer than fifty songs to choose from, there's still a little room for surprise tonight. We predict they'll move somewhere between Bristol street-blues and downtempo jazzy electronica. The dark and shifty malaise that has alway permeated Portishead's music isn't the vibe that gets bodies rocking, but if this band has proved anything, it's that you can still generate a heap of excitement even when moving very slow.

Portishead plays tonight at the Aragon Ballroom, 1106 Lawrence, 6:30 p.m., all ages