In the mid-1990s, the dreamy-but-grooving sound of trip-hop was confined to the U.K. underground until Portishead brought it to the worldwide mainstream. Combining electronics, lush production, Ennio Morricone-like guitar breaks, and angelic singing from frontwoman Beth Gibbons, the band became a leader of the trip-hop movement. After its second album, the band went on hiatus and Gibbons eventually went the solo route with her critically lauded 2002 album, OUT OF SEASON. After a decade apart, the band would reunite for a third record simply titled THIRD.
Usually, groups wait until they''ve released at least three or four records before putting out a live album, but PNYC was too good an idea for Portishead to turn down. Recorded with a full orchestra on a cold, rainy day shortly after the release of their second record, Portishead, the project doubled as a live album and the soundtrack for a BBC documentary. In addition to being economical and perhaps lucrative, the disc demonstrates how sampled and sequenced music can be re-created in concert without losing any of the charm or dynamics of the original recordings. All it takes is a 22-piece string section, some horns, and a band whose tightness is exceeded only by its creativity. At times the performances on PNYC sound even more breathtaking and cinematic than Portishead''s original recordings, as humming theremin, skittery scratching, and gliding strings mingle with stealthy guitar lines and sultry vocals. For Portishead, sour times seem like a distant memory. --Jon Wiederhorn
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