On the evidence of this, the opening gig of Port O’Brien’s three week European tour, the band are going through something of an Oasis phase.
Only two band members of a possible four have actually made the trip – singer Van Pierszalowski and bassist Caleb Nichols – with the others intriguingly back in America having decided not to tour. The implication was there had been a difference of opinion, to put it politely, but as Van rather amusingly told the story, this led to a swift induction for drummer friend Tyson Vogel, and a hasty call to Norway to recruit guitarist Nico.
In band terms, Nico was still in short trousers, having to learn the encore, Rooftop Song, live on set with the full support of the crowd. Van helped him out by listing the chords before he started, and the rest was clockwork. The band did this in such a way that it didn’t betray any negativity – rather it gave the impression there may be opportunities for the new unit to develop as they head out continent-wide.
The episode was typical of the whole Port O’Brien experience, made up of stories of hope often found through adversity. Van made a natural front man, holding the gig together effortlessly despite all manner of technical hitches – an out of tune guitar, with a lead that kept dropping out, and, most entertainingly, an audience that clapped enthusiastically – but on the wrong beat. As he charmingly instructed us on the dos and don’ts of this, he was clearly appreciative of the attention he was getting.
The music was drawn mainly from the last two albums All We Could Do Was Sing and Threadbare, each markedly different in manner. This meant we could move from rousing, singalong pop-rock to sudden bouts of soul-baring with little more than a ‘one two three four’. Nowhere was this more poignant than when Van sang with heartfelt angst, barely able to keep himself from lurching about on the small stage.
Stuck On A Boat was one of the highlights, painting a vivid picture of Van’s time spent on his father’s fishing boat in Alaska, but perhaps inevitably the highlight was I Woke Up Today, bellowed out in a full throated roar by all present. A quick look round the venue at the height of this revealed a scary assortment of teeth and tonsils – but as our gaze returned to the stage, we realised the band were doing the same.
It proved an exultant end to a strangely uplifting experience, proving that, in the end, no matter what the pitfalls in the gigging experience might be, the music is the one element that really counts – and Port O’Brien made sure it did here tonight.