Led by programmer Geoff Barrow and singer and lyricist Beth Gibbons, the electronic-music group Portishead create something very close to ambient trance music, but with a dedication to drama and dynamics that neutralizes the music’s characteristic sameness. While synthesizers, samples, and programming are among their tools, they insert enough acoustic instruments–real drums, even a trumpet and a flute, though little in the way of guitar–to humanize the machinery. And they top this all off with the remarkable vocalizing of Gibbons: a Billie Holiday-ish wail of utter emotional devastation. As hooks galore and the arresting start of the single “Sour Times” attest, the band has a penchant for the dramatic pop moment, but Gibbons’s hints of deep trauma (“It’s just I’m scared / Got hurt a long time ago”) turn it into heavily atmospheric head music–pure pop for the suicidal and neurotic. If the band can deliver live–which is to say re-create both the controlled hysteria of Gibbons’s vocal attack and the cinematic spaciousness of the music–the result could be a mindblower. The show is scheduled to open with a ten-minute film, a spy-horror send-up starring the band members and accompanied by Portishead instrumentals, called To Kill a Dead Man. Tuesday, 7:30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 472-0449 or 559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Matt Bright.