Willy Porter Returns

House of Blues - Chicago

April 4, 1997

First Appeared in The Music Box, May 1997, Volume 4, #5

Written by John Metzger


On April 4, Willy Porter returned to the House of Blues in Chicago with a slightly different band and vastly different song arrangements. On Porter's last trip to Chicago on December 19, he performed an amazing set list of material, with a folky, laid-back feel. In tow was guitarist Greg Koch (who I referred to as Jim Koch in my review sorry, Greg!). This time around, Porter brought a different guitar player and added a keyboardist.

In what seems to be a growing tradition for concerts these days, the audience unfortunately was inattentive and rude. I'm not sure whose idea it was to pair Porter up with opening act Webb Wilder, but it was a horrible mistake. Wilder was a competent and somewhat enjoyable opening act who was best on the non-hits as well as a cover version of a Sonny Landreth song. Wilder's lead guitar player had some nice slide solos and fills, but looked bored throughout most of the set. Despite the fact that Porter was by far the better performer, leaving Wilder in the dust, it was clear who the audience came to see.

Porter is unlike many performers who tour endlessly with the same set list, rendering orthodox versions of their songs that eventually sound tired. Despite the fact that his van broke down on the way to the show, Porter was in good spirits and performed an inspired set of songs. While the set list was similar to the December show, the songs sounded amazingly fresh and vibrant.

His new keyboard player certainly helped to round out the sound, and the first half of the show was his space to jam. The show opened with a driving Jesus on the Grille that turned the album version upside-down. The band really hit their stride on Hard as the new keyboardist played some amazing solos and the group balanced some beautiful harmonies around Porter's sweet tenor.

Porter briefly captured the lack-luster audiences' attention with solid versions of Cool Water, Rita, and Angry Words, but lost them again as he launched into a exquisite rendition of Boab Tree. The first half ended with a rip-roaring version of Deep Elem Blues sending the band off on a break and some of the audience home.

Porter offered a solo performance while the band took a breather. He asked the audience for some topical suggestions for an improvisational piece. This prompted several people to respond each question with an answer referencing Webb Wilder. For example, after deciding the main character would be Grape Ape, Porter asked what was in Grape Ape's cooler. One audience member displayed the limits of his intelligence by responding "Webb Wilder." Nevertheless, Porter plowed on, choosing a bluesy groove to tell his hilarious story which wove in elements from the movie Fargo. Porter also pulled out a brilliant solo version of Moonbeam which displayed his amazing guitar prowess. Then the band returned for a brief jam which led to another excellent new song: Mystery.

As Porter and his band took the stage for their encore, he announced that he would play two more songs. Instead we got four! By this point the audience had thinned quite a bit, obviously not understanding the amazing music that Porter and company were playing. The encore began with a very pretty version of Watercolor followed by what seemed to be an impromptu cover of Neil Young's Sugar Mountain. After a bouncing version of Stevie Wonder's Superstition, Porter picked up what appeared to be a portable synthesizer/recorder and announced "This is what it sounds like as cars and buses pass you by when your van breaks down." The band used this to launch into an improvisational groove which I'll call I Like.

This is the third time I've seen Willy Porter in concert, and he has yet to disappoint me. His shows are energetic and loose, with lots of improvisational moments that are sure to put a smile on your face. Most of all they're fun! I strongly urge you to catch his show next time he pays a visit.

Willy Porter's The Trees Have Soul is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!


Copyright 1997 The Music Box