Portlandia: The Tour: Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY 01/21/2012

Comedian Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) and musician Carrie Brownstein (Wild Flag, Sleater Kinney) enjoyed tremendous success this past year with their sketch-comedy project Portlandia on IFC. January 21st marked the one-year anniversary of the show’s initial airing, as well as what was originally supposed to be the last night of Portlandia: The Tour in New York City. A fiercely original concept for marketing the television show’s second season, the tour sold out every city it visited. The duo’s Bowery Ballroom stop proved to be no different, as patrons donning full, bushy beards, flannel shirts, and the occasional “Keep Portland Weird” sweatshirt packed the venue.

Portlandia: The Tour showcases a style of humor that works well for Brownstein and Armisen. Featuring a healthy mixture of video clips, short comedy sketches and musical performances, the duo adopt a Saturday Night Live-like format to tactfully celebrate and ridicule stereotypes of the average Portlander while simultaneously lampooning themselves. The result is a spirited and overall hilarious performance by two talented entertainers who enjoy the satirical comedy and each other’s company almost as much as their audience does.

With an air of self-importance attainable by only the most seasoned Portlanders, the Mayor (played by Kyle MacLachlan) used a pre-recorded video greeting to set the relaxed, lighthearted tone for the evening while encouraging civility and cooperation amongst the crowd. Armisen then took the stage as Brownstein entered from the back, shouting “A-O River!” (referencing a sketch in the season two premiere) until she reached the front of the room. For the remainder of the show, Brownstein and Armisen promoted the show with their sarcastic humor, showing video clips from upcoming episodes, performing sketches as some of the show’s more popular characters, and playing Portlandia-related songs like “Dream of the 90s.”

On a night featuring many highlights, special performances by surprise guests Annie Clark (St. Vincent) and Hugh Cornwell (The Stranglers) added local flavor and ultimately stole the show. As a musical guest for Portlandia favorites Candice and Toni (of Woman and Women First), St. Vincent played an emotional and chilling solo rendition of Pearl Jam’s “Black.” One couldn’t help but expect Armisen or Brownstein’s character to come rushing out to interrupt the song; thankfully that interruption never came. Later in the show, Cornwell joined Armisen and Brownstein on stage, playing “Hanging Around” and “Golden Brown,” much to Armisen’s delight. The show ended on a high note, with all participants on stage together jamming and enjoying the moment.

Despite the humorous sneak previews, musical performances and star power, Portlandia: The Tour doesn’t come without its faults. Similar to Portlandia the TV series, sketches are often loosely pulled together, giving the show a slightly disjointed feel that at times makes it difficult to follow and fully enjoy. Likewise, some sketches go on too long, are too obscure to understand, or are quite simply not funny. However, in spite of these pitfalls, Armisen and Brownstein have made tremendous strides since the tour’s first night in Portland, OR. The duo now exudes far more confidence in their material and more adaptability on stage than they did on premiere night. Additionally, boring sketches have been pared down or cut out of the show completely, and popular sketches (such as those including Candice and Toni) have become more prevalent in the performance.

Armisen and Brownstein’s performance at the Bowery Ballroom illustrates that the duo is beginning to hit their stride with Portlandia: The Tour. In spite of apparent weaknesses, the development and growth the live show has undergone ensure that the second leg of the tour will keep improving. With six stops on the final leg of the tour, Portlandia: The Tour is a show any follower of Armisen, Brownstein, or Portland, OR should be sure not to miss.

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