Willy Porter, Twice

What? You haven’t seen Willy Porter yet? You don’t know who he is? You’re missing out, pal. I got to see him for the second (and third, actually) time today. First, he gave an in-store appearance at Twist and Shout Underground in the afternoon and played several songs, among them a trademark improvised song about the store itself. He ended the set with a solo acoustic version of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” (Yes, the whole song, complete with key and rhythm changes.) Afterward, my wife and I got to meet him as he was signing a CD for us. Great guy. Really great guy.

This evening, we watched him perform at the Soiled Dove to a standing room only crowd. We were the first people at the venue, so we got seats exactly where we wanted: right at the edge of the stage. Willy was amazing, working the cheesehead-friendly crowd in between songs while he coaxed his guitar into alternate tunings. He played two guitars on stage, an old Bischoff with cracks in the finish and a very warm, aged sound. The other was a seemingly new Guild cutaway model, with gold tuning machines and a gorgeous quilt pattern on the sides and back. (It’s the guitar he’s playing on the cover of his latest eponymous album.)

Willy couldn’t play as long as we wanted him to, because Opie Gone Bad was scheduled to play the same night. (We didn’t stay for the Opie show, so I can’t report on it.) However, he played many of the songs that he hasn’t always performed live in recent years, like “Watercolor,” “Jesus on the Grille,” and my personal favorite, “Angry Words.” To me, the high point of the night was when he was tuning up for “Angry Words,” with two capos on the fretboard at the second and fourth frets (one was a half capo.) Someone in the crowd yelled “Freebird” and Willy just grinned, then stepped up to the mike and proceeded to sing an operatic version of “Freebird,” accompanying himself on guitar in the strange capo configuration. The man obviously knows his fretboard. I hope to learn to play some of his music, and I hope to see him perform many more times.

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