Live Review: PORTS with Roe at Derry Glassworks (‘The Devil is a Songbird’ album launch) – 28th May 2016

By on Wednesday, 8th June 2016 at 3:00 pm
 

Words by Aine Cronin-McCartney, header photo by Olga Kuzmenko

Releasing their highly anticipated debut album ‘The Devil is a Songbird’ on the 26th of May to momentous acclaim, PORTS embarked on a short Irish tour. They returned home to Derry to celebrate their success on the road. The charming setting of the Glassworks, with its old and exquisite feel, was the perfect location for such beautiful acts. Sitting upstairs, it was almost like sitting in the pews of a church, with PORTS commanding the sermon, adding a very spiritual element to the night.

In front of an already decent sized crowd so early in the night, opening act Roe is tranquil with her soothing voice accompanied by her serene guitar playing. While nerves are evident, it does nothing to diminish her ability, as her confidence grows through each song, especially as it is just herself and her guitar on stage. The simple but melodic tune of ‘Ghost’ is reminiscent of early Laura Marling. With her tender and authentic lyrics, Roe makes for a lovely opening act for the evening. With definite potential, her last song called ‘Echoes’ is the highlight of her set, receiving a joyous reception from the crowd. This is certainly just the beginning of what we are to see from her.

With his entertaining stage presence, BBC Radio Ulster’s Stephen McCauley insured there was never a dull moment while the audience anticipated the arrival of the main attraction of the night. As the whole stage becomes occupied by both PORTS and the Prima Quartet, as the musicians gather onstage, they’re evidently elated at the reception they are greeted with. At this point, the Glassworks is brimming with an audience who have waited for this night for a long time, and the atmosphere surging through the venue is one of excitement and pride.

They open their set with the faultless and stirring ‘Remedies’, the perfect introduction with singer Steven McCool’s fervent vocals and the band’s characteristic harmonies. With the striking guitar from Ryan Griffiths and effortless playing from Mark O’Doherty, it’s palpable that the night has truly begun, as the audience edge ever closer to the stage. ‘Gameplay’ emphasises only further the beautiful and echoing harmonies the band have perfected, with the song building to a crescendo that sees the audience react joyfully.

The absolutely exquisite ‘I’d Let You Win’ is made all the more stunning with the accompaniment of the Prima Quartet and Conor Mason’s emotional piano, and the audience responds ecstatically. Making their way through the full tracklisting of ‘The Devil is a Songbird’, it becomes obvious the musicianship and artistry that goes into each of their songs, with McCool managing to so carefully entwine his way through the music with his words. The lyrics prove as emotive as poetry alongside his gifted band, making the perfect combination.

Leading into their album title track, McCool asks the audience to be quiet while he begins something special. Taking two phones out, McCool explains to the audience that he wants to create a low humming reverb that happens when one phone calls another and is held close. The noise produced is similar to that of buzzing crickets, and the sound pulsates through the venue as every member of the audience takes part with their own phones. While this is something the band have done many times before, there is something exceptional about tonight, as the audience remain completely silent throughout, making the moment evocative and moving. Tenderly framing profound and insightful lyrics, McCool stands at the front of the stage confident and self-assured while softly whistling a lonesome melody through his own phone, the Prima Quartet pluck their strings to create a haunting and enduring background with a subtle and isolated resonance.

Just as you think they can give no more, the band exude their last burst of energy. Concluding their set with ‘Ancient Wave’, the audience sing and dance as ardently as ever. The crowd have not wavered from their intense and impassioned position all evening, still eager for more as PORTS and the Prima Quartet leave the stage. Their ovations last long after they have left.

Home shows are always an emotional event particularly when celebrating something as colossal as an album release. But even more so for a band like PORTS, who have poured their heart and soul into the local music scene for such a long time, and this performance celebrated the pinnacle of their success. The whole night was a dream, with the beautiful, old and mystic venue to the ethereal harmonies by PORTS themselves. It has been a long time since I have witnessed such a committed and dedicated crowd who hung onto every word uttered by frontman McCool. The addition of the Prima String Quartet took PORTS songs to another level of beauty and at times, the raw emotion of the band was overwhelming as you could see the genuine sense of gratitude in each band member’s face. The whole evening was spectacular and will be a show that I will not forget soon.

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