The other big thing to come out of Wasilla
Sarah Palin might be both the best and worst thing that’s ever happened to Portugal The Man.
For one thing, the Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee has helped raise the band’s profile by being a talking point, seeing as they come from Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, Alaska.
But on the other hand, it’s all they’ve heard about since Palin was selected by presidential candidate Sen. John McCain to be his running mate in August – and for a band trying to capitalize on a significant indie/experimental rock buzz of its own accord, that can be frustrating.
"It has been somewhat disappointing,'' frontman John Gourley said. "I mean, what a coincidence, and how amazingly random. We certainly don’t mind the press, but it’s not as though we planned this. And it’s also been negative in that we’d hate to benefit off of someone like that anyway.''
Introductions to the Alaska-bred, partially Portland, Ore.-based quartet usually start with "avant garde soul,'' but like other talents like TV On the Radio, Man Man or the Mars Volta, any one genre isn’t quite going to cover it.
Gourley’s voice is a high-pitched wail, occasionally a croon, that sounds wounded and cathartic.
The band’s new album, "Censored Colors,'' will be the focus of Sunday's show at Harpers Ferry. It celebrates a panorama of ideas, gliding from noisy freak-outs (``Lay Me Back Down'') to stentorian rockers (``Out And In And In And Out'') to quirky garage (``All Mine''), soulful angst (``Hard Times''), folkie meditation (``Colors'') and jazz-infused (``New Orleans'').
"I think it felt like the perfect time to do a ‘thank you’ to all the bands our parents gave us,'' Gourley said. "It’s a reference record. I mean, we’re called experimental, but we all grew up on pop, soul, jazz and everything else.''
If it seems like a grab-bag, it’s meant to; Gourley explained that the band went into the studio "with nothing,'' trickles of ideas became torrents, and "Censored Colors'' became the result.
"No matter what, we wrote all these songs with basic chords, instead of piecing them together,'' he said. "So we have the fact that you can strip them all down to just an acoustic guitar if you wanted to, and we were really conscious of that in the studio so we’d have room to explore live.''
In past performances, Portugal The Man has been well-received in Boston, where it has several local connections, including Camp Street Studios legend Paul Q. Kolderie, who mixed "Colors,'' and former Sheila Divine and current Dear Leader singer Aaron Perrino, who is Gourley’s cousin.
Gourley said Boston reminds him of other strong, tight-knit music communities like those in Portland, Seattle, Austin, Texas, and, yes, even Alaska.
"It was a lot of metal and punk when we were young,'' he said of his hometown and places like Anchorage and Fairbanks. "But now there’s a lot more, and there’s a lot of people who just want go out and see music – that kind of atmosphere. You could put a bluegrass band on a bill with metal right after it, and you’d be totally fine.''
The Patriot Ledger