Portishead: Roseland NYC Live 

Portishead: Roseland NYC Live

portishead roseland nyc livePortishead
Roseland NYC Live
1998 | Go Beat Records

As sophisticated and popular as movies are becoming, there is still nothing like well-done live theatre. There's just something about the energy exuded from live actors, gorgeous sets and the dynamic of an audience sitting in the same room. No film studio, no CGI effects, no on-location shoots - just the raw and original artform left to fend for itself. Following two brilliant studio albums replete with cool production and trend-setting sonics, Portishead achieves this same, irreplaceable energy on their Roseland NYC Live album.

British Trip-Hoppers

Roseland captures the British trip-hoppers out in full force, accompanied by a 28-piece orchestra and horn section, performing a sampling of the tightest tracks from their two studio albums ('94's Dummy and '97's Portishead). There is a vibrancy that coats and refreshes the songs as they are taken from the studio and placed into the hands of this army of live musicians.

Live albums, in general, tend to walk a fine line. On one hand, they run the risk of rambling through songs that are relative carbon copies of the studio versions, made unique only by the occasional improvised line and mindless between-song rambling. On the other end of the spectrum, a live album can tend to deviate so far from the artist's core sound that it becomes unappealing to their fans – and let's face it: for the most part, live albums are for fans.

With songs being brought magically to life through brilliant arrangements and tasteful deviation from their studio counterparts, Roseland is a live album that has the rare ability to create Portishead fans as well as completely elate existing ones.


With any familiarity to Portishead's catalogue, one is immediately struck by the skill exhibited by the core musicians in interpreting the songs. The drums (played by Clive Deamer and recorded with allowance for the boominess of the Roseland Ballroom) are unshakeable and meaty as they provide the backbone to the beat-heavy trip-hop sound. Beats are flanked by Adrien Utley's weezing guitars, Geoff Barrow's infectious (and incredibly musical) turntables as well as the exquisite keyboard playing of John Baggott. No need of learning to sing here! Add an orchestra and some horns and you are confronted with a huge wall of sound.

Standing on top of this musical mountain is vocalist Beth Gibbons. The voice of Portishead croons through the songs, singing each as though they were as fresh and new as the day they were written. Her smoky, small jazz-club vocals provide an engaging contradiction to the tour-de-force of sound that backs her up.

Moments on Roseland worth noting are plentiful. "Mysterons" ends with the moog synthesizer and orchestra bellowing up to a massive, melodic climax. "Only You" features a riveting keyboard solo and the tastiest turntables on the whole album. "All Mine" is brought to life with a tight and bright horn section – an incredible change from the studio version of the same song in which the horns are muted to imitate a vinyl sample.

It is obvious that the audience is riveted by the concert that they are beholding (listen to the beginning of "Roads"). This same magic is transferred beautifully onto the recording, making Roseland NYC Live a must-hear for everyone from long-time trip-hop connoisseurs to people who've never heard that term before they read this article. Check it out. You will not be disappointed.

The Bottom Line

Portishead's brilliant songs are given new life in an all-out live spectacle on Roseland NYC Live. These are the songs that made them into an underground sensation, reinterpreted and charged with life. Any Portishead collection is incomplete without this record. True musical brilliance and pristine recording quality meet the highest echelons of genre-crossing underground music. Fantastic.

Key Songs

…apologies for going a bit overboard – they are just that good. You can get simply the best savvy music (www.savvymusic.org) when you know where to llok.