Porter Unplugged!

Deja Vu - Chicago

January 30, 1998

First Appeared in The Music Box, March 1998, Volume 5, #3

Written by John Metzger


It's been a long time since I've seen live music in a venue as tiny as the Deja Vu Bar in Chicago. This cozy place is tucked away on Lincoln Avenue, just a few blocks from the more widely known Lounge Axe. The main room is long and narrow, and as people traversed the room in search of a drink or the restrooms, it was a little difficult finding a spot that wasn't plagued by a constant flow of traffic.

The sound system was adequate for the room, despite only a pair of tiny speakers suspended in the front corners. Those who wanted to hear the music hung out in the front half, and those who wanted to socialize hung out towards the back. Once this balance was established, it was easy to comfortably enjoy the amazing solo acoustic performance of Willy Porter on January 30. It was a warm and wonderful performance, fitting of such an intimate venue.

I've seen Porter perform with his full band many times, and at these shows he has often stepped forward to perform a song or two by himself. However, this was my first opportunity to see him do an entire solo performance, which is definitely one of the hardest things a performer can do. It's just one person on stage and mistakes can become glowingly apparent and audiences quickly lost. A solo performance can quickly separate the talented performer from those who are merely going through the motions.

But Porter was absolutely flawless despite a persistent cold. At times his voice held just the slightest hint of a scratch as he masterfully delivered the vocals to his songs. Except for a particularly mellow first set, there was really no hint that he was in any way troubled by his respiratory problems.

Opening with Breathe, Porter quickly loosened up, pairing funky rhythms with a mantra-like chant. A beautiful rendition of The Beatles' A Day in the Life followed, as Porter playfully altered the lyrics to comment on the odd, upholstered walls of the venue.

As the set continued, those who were there to hear the music quickly gathered around the front of the room, where they could stand just a few feet from the stage. Many played air guitar and sang along to nearly every song. At one point, I overheard a pair of college-aged men commenting on Porter's performance. Clearly stunned by his guitar playing, one said to the other, You know, I've been paying so much attention to his guitar playing, but he has a great voice as well!

Indeed, Porter is an amazing rhythm guitar player. Even standing as close as we were, I am still not sure how he gets such an amazing sound out of his 6 and 12-string guitars. At times it sounded like several guitarists playing at once, and watching him sing while his dexterous fingers nimbly danced along the neck of his guitar was a truly remarkable experience. He made it seem so simple as he casually tossed off outstanding versions of Flying, Moonbeam, Fear, and Sowalo, a new song I inadvertently re-titled Serena in my review last month. Each song featured a different and fascinating rhythm and exploded with power and passion.

Over the course of two hour-long sets, Porter scattered 17 songs, including two incredible instrumentals. The first set featured one of my favorites The Trees Have Soul, which was originally written for Stephen Biko. The second featured Roadbone, a song that carried a driving rhythm and captured the feel of a tractor-trailer cruising down the open road.

Porter will be performing more solo shows as well as duets with bassist Steve Kleiber in February and March, while drummer John Calarco works on a few solo projects of his own. If you get the opportunity, this is definitely something you don't want to miss!

Willy Porter's Dog Eared Dream is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!


Copyright 1998 The Music Box