Review: Willy Porter @ Rubin Museum

Leaving his looping machine and electric guitars at home, Porter came armed with a traditional six string acoustic, his Bischoff nine-string and a wealth of charm. Flanked by Natalia Zukerman, whose solo album Porter produced for his own Weasel Records label, on lap guitar and Mona Tavakoli on a variety of percussion, Porter wended his way through a captivating ninety minute set. The untouched guitar notes and small percussion accents, too fragile for even a modest sized venue, floated throughout the Rubin’s acoustically perfect room.

Where Dylan and Pete Seeger honed in on the complexities of the world, Porter can give you a cerebral take on the joys to be found in his own backyard. At times he’s a more introspective and reflective version of Keller Williams, at others he’s a Segovia from the Midwest. At the Rubin, Porter geared his set to his surroundings. With slides of the museum’s artwork depicted behind him, Porter offered up versions of Available Light, To Big To Sell and Baab Tree, the music nicely complementing the images. In a grander sense, How To Rob A Bank, the title track off his recent album, took on a more topical bent with Goldman Sachs news dominating every newspaper’s front page.

In between songs, often while getting his guitar into the proper tune, Porter offers glimpses into his life. Somewhere between stand-up comedy and Garrison Keillor, Porter opens a small window into his mind and bridges the gap between himself, his music and the audience. On Friday, Porter related a quick tale of how his misunderstanding of the historical significance of the Baab tree led to a comical tiff with an Australian native as well as a story of being humbled by his 9 year old daughter who, while dueting with Dad on her cello, lectured him on playing too many notes while improvising. (Imagine Miles Davis’ kid telling him “Enough with the jazz, Dad. Just play a G,” and you get the picture).

Notwithstanding his daughter’s desire to see her father keep things simple, Porter flexed his dexterous might, covering Peter Gabriel’s Digging In The Dirt on his 9 string without losing one iota of the song’s heft or breadth. A simply remarkable effort that showcased his ability to create a wide panoply of interconnected rhythms and beats with a single instrument. For his encore, Porter finished the night with two of his more complex pieces, Breathe and Moonbeam, the latter getting a rise out of Zukerman and Tavakoli who mused over how bold Porter would get with his final song. An affable and down to earth performer, Porter is comfortable in bars, cabarets and theaters. As his Rubin set proved though, all of Porter’s gigs could fittingly take place in museums where the music sits just perfectly amongst fine art.

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