Uncut Editor's Diary

Port O’Brien, Laura Gibson: Club Uncut, London Borderline, April 6 2010

Allan Jones

A packed Borderline gets suitably rowdy later on, when Port O’Brien turn in a surprisingly rocking set. For the moment, though, the crowd’s hushed. Walking in on Laura Gibson, mid-song, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. People are hanging on her every word, their muted quiet close to something like reverence.

It’s just as well they’re not making a noise. The slightest murmur from them would very likely have drowned her out completely. Gibson has a voice of such gossamer delicacy she makes Joanna Newsom sound like David Coverdale.

“Sweet Deception”, from her 2009 album, Beast Of Seasons, is a particular highlight, enhanced by the discreet support of Sean Ogilvie and Micah Rabwin, from Portland band Musee Mecanique, who between them play drums and other percussive bits and bobs, saw, ukelin, melodica and banjo. Fans of Newsom’s folky exotica and the pared country of Gillian Welch, one of whose old little-house-on-the-prairie frocks Gibson seems to be wearing tonight, should investigate immediately.

Port O’Brien hove into Uncut’s view with 2007’s All We Could Do Was Sing, an album inspired in part by the Alaskan sea-faring adventures of singer-songwriter Van Pierszalowski, whose father is a commercial fisherman with whom Pierszalowski spends his summers working on a salmon schooner in often remote locations and sometimes tough weather.

The record, then, had its share of windswept moments and stirring, communal sea-shanty sing-a-longs that at times had the euphoric sweep of Arcade Fire, but was also notable for several wistful ballads, usually sung by Pierszalowski’s partner, Cambria Goodwin.

The music on All We Could Do Was Sing and to a perhaps lesser extent on last year’s equally good Threadbare was inclined to the folky end of things, appealingly ramshackle in some instances, with a preference for loudly thrashed acoustic instruments, clattering drums and a generally wayfaring air. Elsewhere, there were more measured orchestrations, sombre string sections that hinted at the gravity of, say, The Decemberists or The Acorn, with whom on record at least they have more than a little in common.

Tonight, we are faced with a hastily reconfigured Port O’Brien line-up. Goodwin, they knew, would be unavailable for their current run of European dates. Then, less than a week before the tour, the drummer and guitarist who had lately been playing with Pierszalowski also bailed out, for unspecified reasons that cause Pierszalowski to nevertheless seethe when he mentions all this.

Talk about turning potential disaster to your advantage, though! The new line-up may have been thrown together in fairly calamitous circumstances, but the inevitable rough edges perfectly suit a lot of the band’s material and there’s a thrilling seat-of-the-pants excitement about their playing that may not have survived any more rehearsal time.

With nothing, you imagine, to lose, the band tonight just cut loose noisily at every opportunity, sounding at times like Zuma-era Crazy Horse, country rock played with stinging intensity, uninhibited, frequently raucous and often quite grand. Opener “Don’t Take My Advice”, for instance, sounds here like an uncanny echo of “Don’t Cry No Tears”, a laconic stroll. More urgent are versions that follow of “Oslo Campfire”, “Fisherman’s Son” and the Dylanesque tumble of “Sour Milk/Salt Water”.

Elsewhere, “Calm Me Down”, which sounds reasonably measured on Threadbare, is turned into an agitated epic, Pierszakowski sounding like a man at the end of his anguished tether, or somewhere close to it, drenched in torrential guitars. It gets the biggest cheers of the night so far, although the reception for “Stuck On A Boat”, “Pigeonhole” and “Will Has Gone” quickly run it close.

Things don’t get much better, though, than the rousing late version of “I Woke Up Today”, with its exclamatory chorus, the kind of rousing noise associated with the best of Arcade Fire, inspiring a communal singsong and a fair amount of mayhem onstage, where Pierszakowski has worked himself into a state of considerable excitement.

Another great night at Club uncut, in other words.


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