After a prolonged hiatus of eight years the enigmatic Portishead, a band that ardently refuse to be musically pigeonholed, produced one of 2008's surprise successes. Released in the spring, 'Third' quickly rose to reach number two in the charts, a major achievement considering Madonna released her latest album that same week. 'Third' is, like its two predecessors, challenging, not least for their fans, something the band addressed by embarking on a small tour of the UK just ahead of the album's release.
The tour was serviced by Wigwam who provided a d&b audiotechnik C4 PA as core system, a system choice predicated on a diverse collection of venues, as the band's sound engineer Rik Dowding explained. "It was quite scary to start with. I had only used a d&b system with Skan PA and that was some time ago." Dowding has been engineer for Portishead for eight years, with virtually all of that time spent in the studio, so he contacted Eddie Mulrainey of 3db in Dubai, the man who had engineered their previous live outing.
"Eddie looked at the itinerary and immediately advised a point source system, the C4 system specifically, and arranged for me to spend two days at Wigwam." The visit was pivotal, convincing Dowding of the C4 sound and allowing him enough time to experience the renowned Wigwam service ethic. "Rob Collet who was to be my system tech for the tour, and Alex Hadjigeorgiou Wigwam's king of digital desks were fantastic and gave me a lot of confidence in Eddie's choice." But Dowding had one other major consideration.
"The key is Beth (Gibbon's) vocal," explained Collet. "She has a quiet voice at times, whereas the music is a driving force: hence I couldn't set too much on stage." Where ever possible Collet flew the PA. "We also flew an extra centre vocal system, a small line array of d&b Q1 with the very wide 110° horizontal Q10 at the bottom and that worked perfectly." An observation Dowding readily agreed with, "The concept of using the centre cluster was a life saver; even though Beth sings up a lot more than she used to, it still made my life a lot easier."
Those familiar with Portishead's previous work will know this is a band of complex and demanding musical content and this latest outing was no different, however that didn't prevent the tour being highly successful. "I've got a great calibre of musician up there on stage," concluded Dowding. "So really in some ways I don't have that hard a job. But you've got to be able to glue it all together, and that's where the PA has helped me so much."