Gig review: Gregory Porter @ The Colston Hall 6/4/16
by Polly Hember
Bristol’s Colston Hall saw Gregory Porter’s smooth, sumptuous vocals wash over its sold-out audience last night. Porter is a soul singer, songwriter, actor, father, Grammy-winner and ex-American football player. Jazz FM named the Jazz Musician of the Year, he has experienced universal acclaim and received glowing reviews for his distinctive, booming baritone vocals, his unique compositions and charismatic live performances. Porter did not disappoint; he delivered a selection of songs from his past three albums Water, Be Good, the award-winning Liquid Spirit and showcased songs from his upcoming release Take Me To The Alley with ease and elegance.
Opening with his new single ‘Holding On’, his voice captivated the audience for the entirity of his ninety-minute set. Silky smooth in his mid-range and breathtakingly stentorian in the low, his soothing vocals slip down as easy as honey. They flow through every fibre of the body, right to the very core and, in doing so, stike something profound and deep. This is soul music that manages to speak directly to the soul. Porter’s set switched between his heartfelt ballads such as ‘Hey Laura’, ‘Be Good’ and ‘Water Under Bridges’ that speak of love and healing, and upbeat and lively numbers that draw on jazz, bluesy harmonies and enjoyed raucous trumpet and saxophone solos. ‘Liquid Spirit’ exploded with insurmountable energy as Porter sang out: “Un re-route the river, let the damned waters be”, with the infectious and crowd-pleasing chorus of “everybody clap your hands now”, “get down and take a drink”, which saw the entire hall clapping along and people rising up out of their seats to dance.
‘No Love Dying’ was a highlight, as Porter introduced the song by acknowledging the “trouble in this land, but tonight, here between these four walls… no love will be dying here tonight”, making for a touching chorus where the audience sang back the words in sweet call and response. A stewed mixture of soft love songs, big-band brass sounds, brilliant instrumental jazz solos from Porter’s six-piece accompanying band, and sixties and seventies funk – a cover of The Temptation's classic ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ was a welcome and surprising addition to the set.
The sold-out venue, which seats around 1800 people, can sometimes feel cold and purpose-built. However, the hall was warm and muggy. Whether this was a fault with the thermostat, or a result of the vast audience, this resulted in a relaxed and temperate atmosphere more akin to a hazy speak-easy than the vast hall, making for an intimate and mellow gig. Songs from Porter’s upcoming album were a brilliant taster of more to come. Standouts were ‘Holding On’, ‘Take Me To The Alley’, and ‘Don’t Lose Your Steam’; the latter being an upbeat song about hope, inspiration and aspiration, which he endearingly introduced as a song engineered to encourage his three-year-old son to eat his oatmeal in the mornings.
Singing sentimental songs about love and the future, Porter’s sweet soul music with its bluesy edge truly deserves the widespread recognition and praise it has received. He continues his international tour this year, and releases Take Me To The Alley on May 6th.