PØRTS at Whelan’s – Review
Mainstream music. Who’d want it? Saturated with over rated Kanyes, Taylors, Mileys and Pharrells. Low in fibre, high in sweeteners. Produced by the mindless, consumed by the masses. Musically replicated nodding dogs moulded by a warped mercenary system that’s dominated by big labels, bland radio, deluded talent shows and engorged awards. Stay on the standard FM band and that’s all you’ll get.
However, if you tweak the dial, go up the indie scale or find a BBC Radio app there’s a universe of eclectic musical diversity spanning multiple genres and generations. It’s on this frequency that you may encounter your next Hozier moment. The second the mundanity of modern life ceases momentarily. When a voice, a lyric or a sentiment seizes your subconscious. Cerys Matthews on BBC Radio 6 regularly provides such musical moments. Best known for her indie pop heritage in 90’s band Catatonia, she is a faithful advocate of the band in Whelan’s tonight.
PORTS, formerly known as Little Bear, are a foursome from Derry. They came onto Cerys’s radar having appeared twice on “Other Voices” in 2014. She was so impressed, she included them in her live broadcast from the RTE studios in April last year called “From Dublin With Love”. PORTS came in and did a set that included “The Devil Is A Songbird”, which is tonight’s opener.
It starts with a lonesome melody whistled through the reverb feedback from two mobile phones. Softly framing insightful lyrics, a lingering luxurious arrangement with a delicate yet desolate sound scape. It’s a thing of beauty. “The devil’s a songbird picking at my heart/ Her face was black/ Her dress hung like a painting on the wall” writes frontman Stephen McCool. His writing style is visual, carefully weaving the words through the music. Attributing his key influence to Dylan Thomas, McCool’s poetry is engaging before it even meets the music.
“Night Dries Like Ink” is a song about his brother leaving for Australia, the grief of the departure, the essence of loss. It’s another fragile decadent beauty. A swollen sound scape with oceanic tones throughout, sombre and dark. McCool’s language, “Night dries in/Like ink against a glowing sea/Brother I swim, part of you is part of me/ Fixed to the land motionless I call to thee/ Blessed by the leaves and the autumn skies surrounding me.” Perfect poignancy for this sparkling set list. “I’d Let You Win” follows, carrying the delicate jewel of regret and wistful yearning layered with lush guitars, shimmering in Richard Hawley style.
The lads deliver a stylish, dramatic version of Moby’s “Why Does My Heart?”, part of a recent BBC recording. Oversized, exaggerated with massive effect, it’s as good if not better than the original. There’s a song from their highly anticipated new album called “In Summer” next. Magnificent, sunshine, Summer scape sound. A faint whiff of Groove Armada, huge cymbals, uplifting hooks. If feels like PORTS just stole the sunset and put it in a song. The band have been travelling with The Prima Quartet, I can only imagine how utterly stunning the combination must be. They’ve been playing “Killer”, reworked and rearranged with the quartet. It’s on the new album apparently. Bring it on. Final offerings of the night were “Letters”. Ghostly vocal echoes, a folky feel and charming percussion on a rising pace that evolves into extended serious riffs from Ryan. Closing with “The Few And Far Between”, PORTS end their set much to the disappointment of the crowd. An eleven o’clock curfew to accommodate the DJ is enforced. “Hang the DJ” shouts a fan, pleading for more.
PORTS will give you your next Hozier moment. “The Devil Is A Songbird” will find its way into your universe. It won’t be on Bland FM or MTV. It will blaze a trail through the hungover haze of plastic fantastic pre-manufactured pop. It will shine like a rebel diamond. Be ready for it. You can get your hands on Anicent Wave right now, the album is on the way. Check out PORTS Band on Facebook for more info.
Review by Ciara Sheahan