For Port O’Brien, Saturday’s set at the Hemlock Tavern served as both a homecoming and a farewell for a large and enthusiatic audience. The band’s set was certainly a more personal show than the well-received performance I saw when they opened for Bright Eyes’ at the Great American Music Hall a few months ago, a feeling generated more by the mixture of big fans and old friends in attendance than by the size of the room. The band played with an enthusiasm likely enhanced by the knowledge that this show was their last show for several months, as three of the four members are heading up to Alaska to spend the summer working in the salmon industry.
The receptive room ate it up as the band moved from one catchy, driving number to the next. Despite being a relatively young band, Port O’Brien seems to have already mastered the art of big choruses with group shoutalongs, an audience participation element that will no doubt help them win new listeners, and, which, in the conifnes of a room already on-board, brought things to a frenzy ablely sustained throughout the set.
It was during this frenzy that you sensed that this is a band nearing a turning-point. This might have been obvious before Saturday’s show, with a new Port O’Brien CD to arrive in a few months, shows booked at two British festivals in September and plans to tour sometime after that. Their performance at the Hemlock, though, confirmed to everyone there that the attention this band is about to receive is very well-deserved.
I was excited to see opener Andy Tisdall for a first time, since I’ve been listening to his 2006 solo CD I Want Your Brain regularly since we received it at the headquarters last year (and we’ve included songs in these two mixes). At Saturday’s show, Tisdall and his rhythm section played a strong, straightforward set of material from the CD, with Andy’s voice leading the charge. The live setting limited the opportunity for Tisdall & Co. to recreate some of the production and instrumentation nuances that pepper the CD, but Tisdall’s strong, emotive singing and songwriting, neatly balancing melody and passion, are the biggest draws.