Local “Gifts”: Portugal’s Biggest Band and My New Favorite Nightspot

So this Saturday I returned to my new favorite spot in Philthy, Milkboy (originally reported on last month: http://blog.philthy.us/blog/?p=4021).  My first trip was to check out my current favorite...

So this Saturday I returned to my new favorite spot in Philthy, Milkboy (originally reported on last month: http://blog.philthy.us/blog/?p=4021).  My first trip was to check out my current favorite dance rock duo, Hank & Cupcakes, for the venue’s inaugural night of music.  This time it was to see Portugal’s The Gift (whose latest, Explode, was also reported on last month:  http://blog.philthy.us/blog/?p=4059) playing in a relatively intimate setting, considering that they are actually on their 17th year and are quite a big deal in much of Europe.  They often play on mega stages, with enormous backdrops and extravagant light shows, in front of thousands.  On this particular evening, they were the first of a four-band bill (headlined by local outfit It’s a King Thing), playing in front of about 30.  They, however, remained admirably undaunted.  “This is the biggest crowd we’ve ever played to in Philadelphia,” noted keyboardist Nuno Goncalves from the stage… apparently their first visit had them at The Fire, playing to a crowd of two… one of which left halfway through… Their next visit had them playing to three… one of whom was a relative.  “This is ten times the next biggest crowd we’ve played to,” lead vocalist Sonia Tavares stated, optimistically.  Despite the circumstances (compared to their “average” gig; they are chart-toppers in Portugal, after all), the band took it in stride and seemed to enjoy themselves and “give it” as much as you would expect a band performing for a television audience of several hundred thousand.  Nuno even made his way into the sparse audience during the climax of their performance.

For their five-date US jaunt, The Gift are touring as a seven-piece, supporting Explode, their fifth LP, which dropped stateside last month.  Their four-song, thirty-minute set focused entirely on this release, including the hopefully and danceably melancholy “RGB” and “Race is Long,” numbers that owe as much to the digitally epic romance of 80s synth-pop as to the angst of the alternative ‘90s (It’s hard to avoid comparisons to Shiny Toy Guns and Kill Hannah.)  The highlight of the performance, however, was “The Singles,” the 12-minute, four-part, mini rock opera about a longtime songwriter who is still striving for a hit… If John Cameron Mitchell had based Hedwig on a failure-stricken Depeche Mode, this is how it would likely sound.  While the band seemed in a bit of a rush to load-out and make their way to Boston for Sunday’s gig, those in attendance who managed to catch them within an hour of exiting the stage, did have plenty of appreciation and admiration to share.  So maybe they’re not destined to “explode” the next time they trek through the states, but those who did experience The Gift on their latest US tour do seem to be ready to commit to fandom (Milkboy Operations Manager Bill Hanson did admit that he “loved” them and said he would love to host a headlining show for them which he would “promote the shit out of.”)

So how has Milkboy held up over the course of their first month as an operating venue?  It still remains, simultaneously, quite swanky and quite hip.  It wasn’t nearly as packed as it was for its opening night of live music, with GANG and Hank & Cupcakes but, by around 10pm, a very respectable number of people had filtered in.  And Bill informed me that the previous week a Skrillex DJ performance had attracted 340 enthusiastic fans.  I’m not a fan of coffee, so I can’t comment on Milkboy’s bread & butter (or milk and caffeine) and I haven’t had the chance to sample the extent of their menu, but Bill did provide me with a complimentary serving of their “Bowl of Bacon” (in addition to a number of adult beverages) and it was just as awesome as it sounds… I’m thinking I may need to make a trip back as a “food critic” ASAP.



During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.