Given the eerie beats and unnerving music Portishead conjure up, they really were an unlikely musical phenomenon back when they released debut album Dummy in 1994.

But along with other trip hop acts such as Massive Attack - and to a lesser and more twisted extent Tricky - they hit the big time.

And while the Bristol band don't quite have the pulling power these days - playing a smaller configuration of Vector Arena on their first visit to New Zealand since 1998 - songs like deliciously creepy pop hit Sour Times and the trippy serenity of Wandering Star still sound exotic and fresh.

And it's perhaps not surprising their popularity has waned slightly considering the band's lean musical output of just three albums in 20 years, which included a long hiatus from 1999 until returning with 2008's Third.


But singer Beth Gibbons and core band members Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley remain poised and powerful musicians, despite a few scratchy moments last night that Gibbons' smiled and apologised for at the end of their set.

It was the percussive chaos of Silence, the opener off their latest album, that was first up, and the pummelling minimal majesty of Third's Machine Gun was also a highlight, with Gibbons' serenade a sweet contrast to the wounding industrial-strength beats before it gave way to a Vangelis-like synth symphony.

Earlier, the Adults - made up of Jon Toogood, Shayne Carter and Julia Deans - dished out their own mix of pulsing and temperamental soul on Nothing To Lose and a prog psyche freak-out with Middle of the Universe.

It was Portishead, though, with Mysterons, that got the crowd bobbing and ebbing ever so slightly.

Later, there was the lovely Over and golden hit Glory Box, with its rupturing and turntable carnage breakdown, that snapped beautifully back into Gibbons' haunted pleading of "give me a reason to love you".

Gibbons' voice was gorgeous, ghostly, and dangerous at times, as were the glowering and deathly riffs of Cowboys, before the beautiful Roads in the encore and the primal agitating mantra of We Carry On to end.

Beautifully eerie and intense stuff, which is what Portishead do best.

What: Portishead.
Where: Vector Arena.
When: Last night.