Nattily dressed in a white shirt, black jacket and vest, orange tie, and selvedge denim, and backed by an incredibly talented ensemble (consisting of bassist Aaron James, drummer Emanuel Harrold, saxophonist Yosuke Sato, and piano man Chip Crawford), Porter stood onstage before an assemblage of fans, both seasoned and new, and definitely delivered the goods.
A showcase of jazzy tunes largely inspired and influenced by the blues and gospel, the nights set mostly consisted of songs from his most recent albums, Water and the newly released Be Good. Porter opened with We Are The Children before jumping into the uptempo lament of On My Way to Harlem.
After the performance, Porter told the audience, I cant hear myself, but I can hear you. Someone from the crowd responded, You sound beautiful! And with that intro, Porter eased into a song entitled Beautiful, a meditation on the dichotomy of love.
I should have started [the show] with Beautiful, Porter admits to the crowd. He then went on to talk about his family, specifically his late mother and his brother, Lloyd, who was in attendance and identified by Porter as having a big hat and big belly.
Whos talkin crazy? Lloyd shouted from the back of the room. He added, jokingly, So disrespectful!
The next song, however, was as far from disrespectful as one could get. The reverent Mothers Song, a dedication to Porters mother Ruth Esther, was a happy, hopeful ode to those women who devote their lives to their children.
The reminiscent Illusion was next, a reflective, melancholy piece on love. That was followed by Work Song, which began with a stormy, bluesy intro that eventually gave way to a passionate, gospelesque performance from Porter, one that whipped the audience into such frenzy that women were literally screaming for mercy and doing the Holy Ghost stomp. There was such religious fervor, one almost expected an offering plate to be passed around.
Its only Wednesday, yall, Porter said with a chuckle.
Its never too late to feel the spirit, someone said over repeated pleas for the man on stage to heal us.
So, the healing continued with Real Good Hands, a heartfelt paean to marriage and family, and was followed by the title track of his new album Be Good, a majestic tune telling what its like to be tamed by love. One may feel its cruel, in a sense, but Porters plaintive crooning showed that he doesnt really mind. After that, he performed another ballad, the moving, evocative Skylark.
It was a night mostly bereft of social or politically commentary, yet Porter chose to close the show with 1960 What, an urgent, soulful protest song dealing with the racial injustice and violence of times past yet whose lyrics echoed with present day resonance. (During the performance, some in the audience were moved to call out the name of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager gunned down in Florida by an overzealous neighborhood watch volunteer several months ago.)
On each song, Porter was graceful, but by no means delicate. With his forceful timbre and commanding stage presence, the artist imbued each piece with the right balance of urgency and sophistication. Its quite a gift hes got; theres little wonder hes acquired such an evangelical following.
For those who are not as familiar with Gregory Porter’s music, please check out some of our favorites here:
Gregory Porter – 1960 What? (LIVE AT Littlefield in Brooklyn, NY)
Gregory Porter – Be Good (video shot by friend of the site, Shawn Peters)
Gregory Porter – Real Good Hands