Melanie Martinez released her new album Portals earlier this year, and it’s brilliant. Weird, but brilliant. Like her first two albums it has a unifying theme, but this one takes a left turn. On Cry Baby and K-12 she adopted a child-like persona, and many of the songs on those albums are written from the point of view of that persona. The obvious evolution for Portals would have been for the Cry Baby character to grow further into adulthood, but nope! Instead she metamorphoses into a four-eyed winged nymph-like woodland fantasy creature. Not only does the whole album adopt this theme, but Melanie herself has done all the supporting publicity and performances for the album in character, in full prosthetics and costume. And for the Portals tour – which is much grander in scale than her previous tours – she is doing all the concerts in character and costume as well. The commitment is impressive.
Fiona is the one who first introduced me to Melanie Martinez’s music. We saw her together at Melkweg in 2016. Fiona almost saw her again on the 2019 K-12 tour, but Fiona was suffering heavily from back pain and after queuing for hours found that they couldn’t face the whole concert. This time round Fiona is living in Scotland, and I lined up one of my work trips so that I was around on for Melanie Martinez’s night at the OwO Hydro. (We had other Dundee stuff to do that week as well; it was busy.)
I had rented a car for the work trip, so we were able to drive to Glasgow. We had bought tickets through a pre-sale promotion, and had allocated seats, so we didn’t need to be there super early to queue up. Still we got there relatively early – just after 19:00 – because it was the first time either of us had been there, so we weren’t sure what to expect. Parking was easy, and somehow our tickets funnelled us through a very short queue at the doors. We located our seats on the ground, at the back of the main standing area, and then queued up for merch. (Decent merch; I got a nice poster.)
As an arena venue, the Hydro seems to have its booths and catering set up fairly nicely. It’s still an arena, though. Even the good seats we had were still miles away from the stage. The merch queue was long, and we got back to our seats just before the opening act started. UPSAHL played some fine energetic pop. In the break after her performance we popped out to get some drinks, expecting that it would take 30 or 40 minutes to get the stage ready, but it turned out to be much faster than that. The lights went down just after we got seated again, and the main event kicked off.
As on her previous tours, Melanie Martinez played through the whole Portals album in order, so we knew what to expect in that sense. But the stage setup and set dressing was much more elaborate than on previous tours. The stage was decorated with a woodland theme, with dangling clusters of leaves and giant light-up mushrooms at either side. Between songs the crew would quickly add and remove props. For the song “SPIDER WEB” they lowered a giant rope web like a curtain to match the theme. A video wall behind the stage played animations to match each song. It was big and elaborate and wonderful.
The band on stage consisted of a drummer, guitarist, keboard player, and bassist. The keyboard player also used a live theremin during some of the songs. Not something you see every day! At the front of the stage, Melanie Martinez was accompanied by four dancers. They put on a strutting, cartwheeling, elegantly choreographed, and hugely confident show.
It was great to watch, despite the two people “seated” in front of us spending the whole show standing up and doing their best to block our view. You booked seats! The people in front of you weren’t standing up and blocking your view! If you wanted to go and join the floor audience closer to the stage, the ramp down was right there. (The two people next to us got up and left during the short break before the encore, so we were able to sneak a couple of seats along and get an unobstructed view for the last three songs.)
Also, someone right behind us was filming the whole show on their smartphone, with the LED flash turned on the whole time, which did nothing to illuminate the stage but did illuminate the HEADS of the two people STANDING in front of us, and bathing us in enough reflected light to mess with my night vision, which is bad enough as it is. We could see literally hundreds of people doing the same thing: holding up their smartphone WITH THE LIGHT ON to film the entire concert. 99% Invisible did an episode about music cassette tapes and the culture of people taping Grateful Dead concerts just last week. I understand the impulse to capture the moment and keep memories of a concert, and I’m sure there are people behind me who get annoyed when I hold up my phone to take still photos. I don’t generally want to tell people how they should enjoy a concert, but paying upwards of €50 for the experience and then spending the whole evening getting fatigued arms from holding up your phone the whole time seems…wrong. But if you’re going to do it, please at least learn how to turn off the fucking light so you don’t blind everyone around you.
- TUNNEL VISION
- FAIRY SOIRÉE
- LIGHT SHOWER
- SPIDER WEB
- BATTLE OF THE LARYNX
- THE CONTORTIONIST
- MOON CYCLE
At the end of “MILK OF THE SIREN” one of the dancers brought out a trans flag for Melanie to hold up, and the video wall behind her showed a FREE PALESTINE CEASEFIRE NOW message with a giant QR code link to ceasefiretoday.com.
Our ground floor seats meant that when the music was done we were able to make a very fast exit from the arena and get back to our car before everyone else. Unfortunately we then found ourselves lost in a maze of road closures and road works, and Fiona had to navigate us along surface streets to Robroyston, where we stopped for some McDonalds before the drive back to Dundee. It was after 1am before we got back. Long evening, but worth it.
Aside: this was my first concert outing with my new phone, an iPhone 15 Pro. When it comes to taking photos of the stage: not very impressive. I’d hoped for better. On the other hand: terrible conditions for a tiny camera! (We’ll see what it’ll be like in upcoming gigs, if I can get a bit closer to the stage.) But my colleague Graham was also at the show, and he showed me some of the pictures he’d taken with his Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (with 10x optical zoom) and they were just astonishingly better. The lesson I’m taking from this is: arena venues are terrible.