Out in the California desert, the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival is fast becoming an oasis for high-profile reunions.
The Jesus and Mary Chain, the Pixies, Rage Against the Machine, Gang of Four and Bauhaus are just a handful of the acts who’ve come back to life at the Indio, Calif.-based event in recent years.
The trend will continue this year when two of Britain’s most important ’90s alternative bands, Portishead and the Verve, make their respective U.S. returns for the first time in nearly a decade.
Securing the services of both groups, says Paul Tollett, principal of Los Angeles-based Goldenvoice, which organizes Coachella, has brought serious pulling power. “The fans like them,” he says, “but also they attract other bands to the bill and give a serious feel to the show.”
Portishead should be nearing peak shape for Coachella, which will serve as a launch pad for “Third,” its first studio album in more than a decade. “They’ve been asking us for quite a few years,” Portishead’s Adrian Utley says of Coachella. “It seems like a good place to play, being out in the desert, and it was started by what seems to be some pretty cool people.”
Island Records Group U.K. president Nick Gatfield is confident “Third” hits the stellar notes of earlier works.”It’s a really strong record and it’s adventurous,” he says. “Beth [Gibbons’] voice is as powerful as ever. The uptempo tracks are never going to be drum’n’bass, but they do hit 120 BPMs in some places.”
Adds Utley, “[It] sounds nothing like ‘Dummy’ or ‘Portishead,’ but it’s definitely its older brother or sister. It’s the same mindset we’ve always had, only further down the road.”
Admitting the band’s creative process can be “very slow,” with some tracks from “Third” percolating for four years, Utley says the members have drawn upon an eclectic mix for musical inspiration, including recordings by Can, the Silver Apples, Joy Division, early Human League and “weird doom metal band” Ohm.
New tracks were first given an airing last December at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Minehead, England, which the band curated. Wider U.K. and European audiences will get a taste during a spring tour.
“There was never no Portishead,” notes Utley. “It was just we’d had enough, and we didn’t have any ideas. We all got on with various different things, but we worked on each others’ projects. There was always a Portishead. We have ongoing business, obviously, to deal with — permissions and compilations and film requests, even if we’re not doing anything at all.”