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Port O’Brien and Laura Gibson, The Borderline, London, April 6th 2010

April 7, 2010

I don’t often mention the support acts in this blog, but that’s usually for lack of time not because I don’t care – earnest listener that I am. This occasion, though, was almost a double bill for me as I’d seen Oregonian Laura Gibson at last year’s End Of The Road Festival and was very impressed. I missed her show at The Windmill in Brixton earlier in the year, so was keen not to miss out this time.

Parky had gone on ahead to buy me a Newcy Brown, but I missed the first song thanks to the world’s slowest girl on the door and being inexplicably locked out of the club for five minutes. Not good. After settling near the front, I stood admiringly as Laura played an excellent set, accompanied by two accomplished chaps on a huge range of instruments – drums, glockenspiel, keyboards, trumpet, bells, pedal steel played with a violin bow, melodica and more. She plays a simple acoustic guitar with nylon strings giving her sparse picking style a Spanish edge.

The first thing you notice about her songs is how precisely the words are enunciated – and how well-chosen those words are. There’s nothing obviously complex about them, but her lyrics have a striking timelessness to them that defies easy categorisation. I suppose you could say Laura’s a folk artist, but there’s a whole lot more going on. And her singing voice is great – at times she can veer towards the ‘girlie’ sound of every other indie girl singer on the radio, but she has a resonance to her voice that reminds me of the great Karen Dalton. Not as ‘deep’, but almost as beguiling and austere.

Stand-out songs were Sweet Deception, which started ‘rocking out’ very nicely, and the bewitching Funeral Song, both from her excellent CD Beasts Of Seasons. She’s playing with Woodpigeon at the Union Chapel next month, so I’ll be sure to check her out again. I gave her a quick ‘hello’ after the show and she said that she really liked playing at The Windmill and had indeed met Angry Dog

I enjoyed Port O’Brien‘s 2008 CD All We Could Do Was Sing, but this was the first time I’d seen them. They have a very ‘fluid’ line-up – anywhere between three and six of them can turn up. This time, female member Cambria Goodwin didn’t make the trip with co-founder Van Pierszalowski and Ryan Stively. Oh, and their drummer and electric guitarist failed to make the trip to Europe either, so Van told us an amusing tale of grabbing a drummer in San Francisco and Skyping a guy called Nikolai who they’d met in Norway, both of whom said they’d be happy to tour Europe.

That confusion might explain why much of tonight’s set was rough around the edges, but that’s good. We don’t want Fleet Foxes, thank you, and much of their set was rockier and grungier than their studio stuff. Indeed, the first three songs, including a heavy Don’t Take My Advice, reminded me of the slow rock of Crazy Horse at their stonedest. Very nice. Fisherman’s Son highlights the nautical flavour of much of their work – Van’s parents met at a cannery in Alaska and he himself has spent months on boats in the high Arctic – but some of the softer songs on record, with almost shanty-like harmonies, lost some of their punch this evening. The contest perhaps wasn’t fair, as with this line-up the louder numbers won out every time, including Calm Me Down, Stuck On A Boat and the excellent Pigeonhold.

Occasionally, their songs can be a bit too indie for my tastes, with the choppy-poppy guitar beloved of bands who think it’s 1981, but they’re young, so who am I to complain? I was aware that their final song, I Woke Up Today, had been a single, but I hadn’t bargained for the outpouring of enthusiasm and singing along that greeted it. Again, it sounds too ‘NME’ for me, but the rockier encores ensured a fine ending to a very enthusiastic and fun show.

Veteran music journo and Uncut editor Allan Jones seemed to enjoy it too, as this was a Club Uncut evening. Previous Uncut events have been ruined for me by loads of loud, uninterested hangers-on floating around Mr Jones hoping to be noticed and doing the schmooze thing, but thankfully tonight the wannabe Nick Kents kept quiet and enjoyed the show. Here’s the official video for Stuck On A Boat:

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