Gregory Porter at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, 1 April 2016
It can be difficult to consider and appreciate jazz as a genre if you are unfamiliar with it. Lazy images are conjured up of dimly-lit lounges, velvet furnishings shrouded in smoke and brass instruments in excess. As an art form, jazz is now seen as inaccessible to the masses.
With his Grammy award-winning album, ‘Liquid Spirit’, and upcoming release, ‘Take Me to The Alley’, Gregory Porter has become the modern figurehead for the genre. Larger-than-life (without being imposing), donning a flat cap and modified balaclava, his warmth on stage penetrates every soul in the Olympia.
His sound is as robust as it is modern, having recently collaborated with dance producers Disclosure and Claptone. He is met with the kind of reverence usually reserved for rock stars – every tittering drum piece and piercing saxophone solo is met by thousands of faces held in awe.
Porter’s cover of Papa Was a Rolling Stone is hugely expressive – a key difference with this genre and Porter’s performance is that the groove enforced transcends all others. On Musical Genocide, the instrumentation loop-de-loops aggressively, although the second chorus is not as hard-hitting. Porter’s keyboard player also treats spectators to an interlude of Wake Up Everybody – a gorgeous touch for any soul fan.
The singer’s relationship with his band is truly special, and it’s easily recognised. When one member begins to experiment with flourishes and embellishments, the rest coyly look at each other and smile. It’s a wonderful sight to a see band work so well together, and still so harmoniously when isolated.
Hey Laura oozes sensuality, with its bittersweet lyricism discussing unrequited love. Liquid Spirit acts as a complete U-turn, but at times, Porter gets so into the play-acting that he throws himself off-beat. However, the man claps so ferociously and enthusiastically, you’d feel bad for not joining in with him.
Water Under Bridges is marred by initial grumblings, until one concert-goer at the back bellows ‘quiet!’ Porter turns to the stage from the shadows, like some pantomime villain singing his song of epiphany. It’s theatrical, but still very sincere. Similarly, Work Song is a powerful anthem highlighting racial inequality. It’s a little looser in terms of structure, but it’s impact is still incredibly strong.
Porter’s saxophonist struggles on No Love Dying, breathlessly squeezing out the higher notes of his register. With that said, both he and his band know how to bookend a song expertly, delicately introducing instrumental elements and allowing them to play out to their natural conclusions.
The highlight of the night comes with Be Good – a thought shared by several audience members who squealed, “I love you!” as he leads into the track. On some notes, Porter loses some vocal clarity. Otherwise, it is a truly stunning performance, examining masculinity and vulnerability within romantic relationships.
Everyone in attendance is aware they are in on something really special when watching Gregory Porter. As a musician, his talent goes beyond adding vocals to a dance track, though his voice remains his most threatening weapon in his arsenal. Porter delivers a uniquely charismatic set, both balanced in mood, pace and genre.