Most bands wait until well into their careers to release a live album. Not Bristol, England, trip-hop pioneers Portishead.
"We've been on tour for almost a year and we're really proud of it and a lot of our fans wanted to get hold of it," guitarist Adrian Utley said, answering questions along with producer and scratcher Geoff Barrow during an all-day Internet chat and press conference Monday.
"It's to document what we've been up to in the last year," Utley added, announcing the dark jazz-pop group's plans to release PNYC: Portishead Live (Nov. 10), an alluring 11-track album chronicling a July 1997 show at the Roseland ballroom in New York City.
Portishead's two highly influential studio albums -- their 1994 debut, Dummy, and their self-titled, 1997 sophomore album -- mixed hip-hop scratching, jazz instrumentation and the haunting voice of singer Beth Gibbons for a sound that was uniquely modern and classic at the same time.
The duo said the album is a document of the group's New York show and the feel of its world tour in support of the Portishead album.
In keeping with the studio albums' lush, atmospheric sounds, PNYC and its accompanying home video of the same name offer a crystalline record of fragile, scratch-inflected, jazzy pop backed by a 30-piece orchestra. The album sounds so pristine in its recording that it almost could be another studio record.
"It was very much an extension of our albums and our music. We didn't approach it in an old-school rock 'n' roll way," Utley explained Monday when asked why a band so famously studio-centric would attempt a live album.
Joining the group onstage for the album and video are engineer Dave McDonald, keyboard player John Baggott, bassist Jim Barr, drummer Clive Deamer and DJ Andy Smith.
"We definitely wanted it to sound live," Barrow said, "and it is live. We mixed it carefully but still allowed for its sound to be live and not really heavily worked on."
The pair did admit to a few sonic tweaks, however.
A guitar here and there, but nothing more, Barrow and Utley said. The video will feature three songs that didn't make it onto the album because the group felt the performances were most captivating for their visual qualities, Barrow said. The titles of the additional video-tracks were not available at press time.
Except for a quivering, even-spookier, fun-house version of their breakthrough hit, "Sour Times (Nobody Loves Me)" (RealAudio excerpt of studio version), taken from a show in San Francisco six months after the New York gig, and "Roads," recorded during a Norwegian festival gig, the entire album is culled from the July show in New York.
The version of "Sour Times" was included to represent the sound of the group later in the tour and the "Roads" (RealAudio excerpt of studio version) take was chosen for what the group thought was an exceptional vocal performance by Gibbons, the two said.
Utley and Barrow explained that the group intended for the album and video to have the cinematic, slow-motion feel of a favorite film featuring the late jazz-trumpeter Miles Davis.
"With a big orchestra and loads of lights, we wanted a much more intimate setting where the audience were very close and involved in the whole event," Utley said. "The way we were filming it was based on an Gil Evans and Miles Davis film [from the early '60s], so it was important to be on a big space where the cameras could track round us and between us."
All in all, despite Portishead's reputation for endless sonic tinkering, Barrows said they were proud of such cinematic takes as the album's version of "Glory Box" (RealAudio excerpt of studio version), which bursts with strings, funky wah-wah guitars and keyboards behind Gibbons' emotive vocals.
"We thought it would be pretty strange," Barrows said, when asked about the difficulty of capturing a live performance that featured such complex instrumentation, "seeing it was the first time we had played those tracks [with an orchestra]. But we think they sound OK -- if we didn't, we definitely wouldn't release it."
The full track-listing of PNYC is: "Humming," "Cowboys," "All Mine," "Mysterons," "Only You," "Half Day Closing," "Over," "Glory Box," "Sour Times," "Roads" and "Strangers."