In 1994 I was wasting my time at a small-town college in North Louisiana when Portishead’s “Dummy” album inexplicably exploded into my consciousness. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before and I wore it out, listening to it over and over again for the next couple of years (I’m obsessive like that). It sounded to me like the cool I wanted to be, and since I was a fat weirdo and couldn’t achieve that coolness, listening to it was the next best thing.
I never got to see Portishead live. While I don’t think the band has officially called it quits, the last time they played live together was in 2015(?), according to their website. But last Thursday night’s “Dummy” tribute show at the Hi-Ho Lounge was what I imagine it must be like to experience their brand of trip-hop magic in person. The show was masterminded by newly local musician/composer Tristan Gianola and included a full band, an 8-piece string section, a supremely cool guest trumpeter called Cyrus, and DJ Tony Skratchere, all fronted by Peak del Valle, very possibly the only woman besides Beth Gibbons herself who could have pulled this off.
The stage packed full of musicians, the show started with the first cut from “Dummy” and set the tone for the rest of the evening. del Valle was a striking figure in her teal dress, mink stole, and glasses as Gianola took turns between being guitar god and conductor. Each piece was true to the album, but with just enough personal innovation to set these local musicians apart and make this show truly a tribute and not just a collection of thoughtless cover songs. The string section was impeccable and made me think to myself more than once just how many talented musicians we are lucky to have in this town. It was also interesting to me to see a little bit more “behind the scenes” of how these songs were made. The Hi-Ho crowd was equally into it, as every song garnered a thunderous roar at its conclusion. This was clearly a crowd full of Portishead fans who were not disappointed at seeing a Dummy “cover” band.
If you missed the two shows they put on, you really missed out on something wonderful. I’ve been to hundreds of shows in my life and this was easily one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. My only complaint was not with the performers at all, but with the people in the crowd who would not stop talking during the show…but that’s another topic for another day.