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The beautiful rolling textures of trip hop owe everything to the dub and hip hop captured within a few elegant blue lines. Blue Lines, the 1991 debut record from Bristol's Massive Attack, was the aural equivalent of a layered dream, where wispy voices delight in a paradise resting unsteadily on a dark sea of slow, churning beats. The record led the way for artists like Tricky (a Massive Attack associate) and Portishead; both used heavy-handed production tricks and techniques to create gloomy atmospheres. In 1994, Portishead's debut, Dummy, discarded Massive Attack's sweet textures in favor of Geoff Barrow's slow, ominous beats and Beth Gibbons' distraught vocals.

Unlike Massive Attack's sophomore CD, Portishead's second, self-titled, release avoids the usual stumbling blocks of repetition and mediocrity. Tracks like "Half Day Closing" and "Only You" are brilliant extensions of the group's repertoire. The two songs explore the band's central theme of the oppressive burdens of love, yet storm off in unexpected directions guided by Gibbons' unbridled voice and Barrow's precise samples. The total experience is akin to immersing oneself in a bitter love saga; self-reliance is reawakened and self-loathing renewed.

Portishead live are no different. The white lights and waves of blunted beats swirling around Gibbons' spectral presence take the listener on a ride through love and self-discovery. Considering Portishead toured only once for their first album, missing this show means not only bypassing one of the highlights of 1997 but enduring a long, arduous wait for their return.

-- Robert Arriaga

Portishead play Tuesday, Dec. 16, at 8 p.m. at the Warfield, 982 Market (at Sixth Street). Tickets are $22.50-25; call 775-7722.

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