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‘Beautiful closure’: After a big year, Portugal. The Man comes home to Alaska for tour-ending concerts

  • Author: Chris Bieri
  • Updated: October 25
  • Published October 25

The last 18 months have been an unconditional triumph for Portugal. The Man, complete with a Grammy Award, a record-setting single and an expansive world tour.

And with a return to their home state, the Mat-Su-rooted band intends to put a bow on the era that vaulted them from a spunky rock outfit to a household name in pop music.

Portugal. The Man, fronted by Willow native John Gourley along with Wasilla natives Zach Carothers on bass and Eric Howk on guitar, will play a pair of sold-out concerts Friday and Saturday at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

"It's going to be rad," Carothers said in a phone interview this week. "First off, it's been a really long tour. We've been out for a year and a half. There's this beautiful closure about coming home and doing the last two shows of the year in Alaska."

The band has played big shows in Alaska before — most recently at the 2015 Alaska State Fair. But it's the first time since the release of "Feel It Still," the song that won the 2018 Grammy for best performance by a group/duo and set the record for most weeks atop the alternative chart. The popularity of the song and its parent album, "Woodstock," installed the band and its music as regulars on late-night TV shows and major commercials.

"It has been a whirlwind," Carothers said. "I'd really love to slow down so I can reflect a little. Since that song got huge and we've been out touring, it's been different every day and super inspiring but also really hard work. It's been surreal. People ask me what's the biggest accomplishment and I think it's still being together as a band."

Formed in Alaska by Gourley and Carothers, the group relocated to Portland nearly 15 years ago. Their early work made reference to Alaska and its vivid scenery. Carothers said more recent work includes a more subterranean nod to the state.

"It's more about the ideals we were raised with," he said. "It's more of an internal thing. We used to be more visual with our songwriting. You're always looking at things to soak in. I've been doing that my whole life and it's just recently we've been exhaling. Earlier it was visual and literal — streams, trees and mountains. It's still in our work but not at the surface level. It doesn't have to do with our senses, but what we learned from what we saw."

The band's popularity has exploded to the point that they've measured the scale of concerts by the population of their hometown.

"We joke that some of the shows there are double or triple as many people as were in Wasilla when I was growing up," Carothers said. "It's just crazy."

With the increased exposure, the band has been able to outsize their non-music ambitions as well.

That includes advocacy for Native people. Carothers said their interest in indigenous issues started with learning from friends who are Alaska Native.

They canceled an appearance on an Australian TV channel this spring after a controversial segment was aired on the station regarding Australia's indigenous people. Throughout their most recent tour, PTM has invited local Native people to the stage for a variety of performances.

"Sometimes it's been stories, poems, traditional dance, political lectures," Carothers said. "It's been almost every night before we play, a shared learning experience with us and the audience. A lot of stuff we've written lately has been influenced by that."

Eric Howk, John Gourley, Zachary Carothers and Jason Sechrist  with Portugal. The Man perform during Music MidTown 2018 at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, September 15, 2018. (Photo by Katie Darby/Invision/AP)

The details of similar performances for the Alaska shows are still being worked out, according to Alaska Airlines Center director of marketing Jon Dyson.

Another place where the band is trying to use its newly wider platform is in the area of mental health — also an issue that stems from discussions within their home state.

The band partnered with Keep Oregon Well to raise awareness over the four shows in the state over the summer.

Carothers said past return trips to Alaska usually include a healthy dose of family time as well as playing tour guide to members of the crew who haven't been here, visiting locations like Girdwood and Hatcher Pass.

But this trip will include a couple extra appointments. On Tuesday, Carothers, Howk and Gourley will receive a mayoral proclamation honoring them as "hometown heroes" during the Matanuska-Susitna Borough assembly meeting. They're also receiving a commendation from the Alaska Legislature on Friday evening honoring the band for its Grammy win.

The band will also play a short acoustic set for a suicide prevention benefit Sunday at the Anchorage Alehouse.

Despite the breakneck schedule of the past year, PTM is close to completing recording of what will likely be its follow-up to "Woodstock."

"We've been in (the studio)," Carothers said. "We should take a small break (after the Alaska shows) but there's always something that prevents us from doing that. It's that Alaskan work ethic. If you stop you freeze to death."

But Carothers said the band will take a moment to raise a glass to the accomplishments of the past year.

"To be able to wrap it up with two sold-out nights in our home state, we've never really done that," Carothers said. "It's going to be a really big thing. We're going to have a hell of a party."

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