We Were Promised Jetpacks
16 November 2015
Doug Fir | Portland, OR


By: Meghan Kearney
More than a year after the release of their third full-length record, Unravelling, Glasgow fave We Were Promised Jetpacks returned to The States. A nearly-annual West Coast run brought them to Portland, Oregon’s Doug Fir Lounge – a venue which has been their homestead in the city for the past 5 years. A local crowd, expressively joyed to have the lads back, formed an orderly queue (nailed it) outside the venue on this cold, rainy evening. A rarity in the laid back city.

This would be my sixth time seeing WWPJ. But it would be my first time leaving completely floored by what would seem an almost entirely new band. I first saw the Glaswegians open for Frightened Rabbit at Music Fest Northwest in 2009, and somewhere over the course of the last year, I must admit, I lost touch. I only just gave a real listen to 2014’s Unravelling over the last week in preparation for the show. As a concert goer, quite unfamiliar with their new material, I’d quickly realize these were not the same Jetpacks I saw back in 2009. Not on Unraveling. Not live on stage. I was about to find out that WWPJ seems to be just getting started.

Opener, Seoul, from Montreal kicked off the show before the (still original crew) Adam Thompson, Michael Palmer, Sean Smith, and Darren Lackie (Peter) took to the stage. In matching all-black outfits, their coordinated clothes a foreshadow for the seamless synergy to come.

A couple songs in, Adam Thompson’s beautifully Scottish vocals (something we are all enamored by over here) powerfully led their way through These Four Walls’ “Ships with Holes Will Sink.” The crowd’s energy began to match as everyone in the room let familiar sounds takeover. Each of the four had their own unique, but dynamic stage presence, one as fun to watch as the music was to hear.

To the left of the stage, Palmer’s body bobbed around loosely, eyes closed, as his fingers moving as their own entity swept through the track. To the back, Lackie pounded on his drums so fiercely, at one point playing en entire section with only one arm. Smith, to the left, held down the funkiest bass jams, all smiles through the set, rocking around in unison with Palmer.

IMG_5416About halfway through the set, all four Jetpacks became completely still, lights dimmed. Thompson and Smith softly played the opening chords of “Sore Thumb.” The crowd remained silent along with them,  save for a few solo cheers, and subsequent “shushes.” The instruments continued to build, as each member of the band matched one another unlike ever before, emotion pouring from their instruments and bodies. After a few minutes of gorgeous instrumental, the music slowed almost to a stop, the room now in total silence. Thompson backed away from the mic, spotlights silhouetting his body from behind, and began to shout the beautifully gut wrenching words of the track. Following his last words, half a second of total silence, then the room exploded with a soul-shaking, wall of lights and sound. And the entirety of Doug Fir, forgive my crassness, completely lost their shit.

Transitioning between explosive instrumentals and soft, melodic compositions Thompson at one point moved across towards near Palmer, looking to Lackie as if passing over the torch for lead vocals. Lackie’s eyes lit up like a child and with a big grin he took spotlight on the song’s vocal bridge. As expected, that addictive Scottish drawl. The crowd worshiped with cheers to see Lackie in the spotlight, giving his arms the only rest they had all night.

A jaw-dropping version of “Pear Tree” winded down the near hour and a half of unrelenting rock as the band members left the stage to darkness and screams for an encore quickly erupted. Within seconds, the band was back on stage to give us the most insane version of “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning” that any tour had yet seen. Everyone in the crowd screamed the chorus in unison with Thompson up until the very final blood-curdling “I’m leaving!” By the time the house lights came on, the crowd was still. Around the room it seemed that each person was regaining breath and composure, seemingly reflecting on the spectacle that just took place. And that was it, my favorite Jetpacks show in the books.

Do me a favor. Go listen to Unravelling. Go revisit the Jetpacks. I left this show feeling like Glasgow has a new star child. I felt the same way I felt when I walked away from seeing Mogwai at Sasquatch. These weren’t the wee kids I saw in 2009. These guys have a new spark, and now more then ever before deserve our attention. Move over, Mogwai, there’s some new Jetpacks in town. Cheers to another night at the Fir with WWPJ. I fear this may be the last time I’m lucky enough to see them light up such a tiny room.