Portico Quartet @ ICA, London 03.12.10

A bitterly cold night had frozen their bones and forced the audience to wear the most embarrassing of leg warmers. However this did not prevent them from enjoying that much needed glass of Chardonnay at the London ICA, whilst eagerly awaiting the headline act Portico Quartet.

Dec 3rd, 2010 at ICA, London / By Joshua Edwards
Portico Quartet All was different in the ICA compared to outside; firstly, anticipation was in the air not the cold, and secondly, coats and scarves seemed more of an inconvenience, as more members of the audience piled themselves into the venue creating a gathering heat, like a parcel of penguins.

Four standard looking blokes step onto the stage with no intention to draw attention to themselves, almost unnoticed by members of the audience behind the front two rows. The saxophonist James Wyllie gives the sound tech a glare and he begins playing; nothing virtuosic, nothing intricate, just a single note. The note continues to gain in dynamics which contrasts the chatter of the audience as they start to listen - the lights dim to almost complete blackness and the drums begin.

First tune ‘The Visitor’ hails from their second album Isla, the successor to their Mercury Prize award nomination debut Knee Deep In The North Sea. The tune sends the listeners into a hypnotic state, making them gently sway to the rhythm. As the song ends, the applause follows immediately after and without hesitation the amusingly titled ‘Su-Bo's Mental Breakdown’ begins. The driving bass line and slapped breaks sends a message to the listener's brain and makes them crunch their face into a shape that looks like they're snarling, but there is no barking from the audience, only pure enjoyment in the beautiful music.

As the gig goes on, the people refuse to simmer their feet down, they refuse to speak to one another, they let the music do all the talking for them. Tunes like ‘Paper, Scissors, Stone’, ‘Life Mask’ and ‘Line’ allow the audience to forget the weather problems outside the venue and fix their eyes and ears on each player’s technical ability; the expert playing of Nick Mulvey on the hang drums during the song ‘Isla’ receives many-a-cheer as well as the flawless drumming ability of Duncan Bellamy, and the effortless talent of their saxophonist virtuoso. Few words are exchanged between the band and the audience, but it's not about the stage presence, the lack of lyrics, or crowd participation that matters at this particular gig - it's about the passion of the music.

Nick spreads his thanks to the audience and the crew as the band play their pre-encore song ‘Dawn Patrol’. The song finishes but the audience will not be moved and continue to cheer the empty stage. The band return and Nick Mulvey once more speaks of his appreciation to everyone and utters his final words. “This final song is ironically titled ‘Stepping in the Wrong Direction’” the audience laugh and the song starts. This last song is certainly the band's strongest, providing strong and memorable bass and saxophone melodies, experimental drum patterns and beautiful hang drum sequences all in one song. For modern jazz, this is perfection.

The band end their set, accept the audience's applause and bow. They leave but the audience resume with their cheers. We spot a small tear fall down one Portico fan's cheek. The venue empties and as people step out back into London's big freeze they still can't help but feel warm after such an intensely driven and powerful performance from the band. Portico Quartet are definitely the best central heating system in the world.