Story and photos by Matt SchwenkeA crowd mixed of college kids all the way up to grandparents filled the confines of Shank Hall to catch Milwaukee's native son and accomplished musician Willy Porter as he tours throughout the nation. With his latest release High Wire Live focusing in on the talent displayed in his live performances, the attention to detail in performing has certainly paid off.
Starting out the first set as a solo act, Porter began by working through guitar loops until he was encased in sound. As loops were added in and taken out with a tap of the foot, Porter's singing changed shades just as easily. In "Jesus on the Grille," the singer seemed to molt into different personalities as the song's dialogue between two characters progressed. With humorous asides and playful interaction with the crowd, a song about neighbors evolved from a storytelling moment and eventually featured the musician dancing to his own loops of guitar and impersonations of his neighbors. Keeping the fun going, Porter entertained many a laugh with an ultra-slow version of Devo's "Whip It."
Returning for the second with a full band behind him and a slightly more serious approach, Porter and crew dished out sparkling renditions of earlier and more sincere songs. The airily beautiful "Paper Airplanes" was an early favorite with the crowd as well one of Porter's first hits "Angry Words." As the first set showcased Porter's Leo Kottke-like guitar ability, the second set was more of a nod to Porter's songwriting which brings to mind the gentle pop pulse of a Ben Harper. Shifting between the blazing finger-picking of "Breathe," a bluegrass infused jam in "Rita," and a more straightforward rock in "Mystery," Porter's talents stretch across genres until you come back to the song simply being Willy-style.
"I am your neighbor," said Porter early in the show, and at the end of night, with a portion of proceeds from all of his announced shows going to hurricane victims, those from Milwaukee were glad to have this neighbor who has remained calling Milwaukee home.
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