Five quick thoughts about Field Report's incredible concert Wednesday at Rumba Cafe:
(1) I don't know if I've ever heard an already gorgeous album sound even richer and fuller in a tiny room like Rumba, but that's what happened Wednesday. Pedal steel, background vocals, eerie keyboard wash and everything else added up to folk rock at its most artful and powerful. As the singer-songwriter, Chris Porterfield rightly gets most of the credit for making Field Report great, but props to his five-piece backing band and Rumba sound guy Mark Miller for making these arrangements sound so exquisite.
(2) In my preview, I compared Field Report's sound to Wilco's "Ashes of American Flags" + Ryan Adams' "Oh My Sweet Carolina," and skimming through the record again right now, I'll stand by that comparison. Live, a different hybrid kept springing to mind, though. The background music's bleary naturalism reminded me of Bon Iver, whose Justin Vernon used to play with Porterfield in the unfortunately named DeYarmond Edison, while Porterfield's raw, resounding tremble struck me as shockingly similar to Strand of Oaks mastermind Timothy Showalter. Still, Bon Iver + Strand of Oaks is a pretty great combination too.
(3) Getting to experience such a powerful performance in the intimacy of a space like Rumba is not something to be taken for granted. Field Report is pour-your-heart-out music, and while these songs would sound amazing echoing through an old concert hall like the Newport, there's something incredibly special about encountering them on a smaller scale, where all the sounds and emotions are trapped to reverberate in tight spaces. Furthermore, it's just cool to see someone like Porterfield engaging in friendly chitchat between songs then transforming into a rock star during the songs. This ended up being a surprise contender for concert of the year; I had been expecting a good show, but not 60 minutes of uninterrupted bliss.
(4) That said, Porterfield's approachable nature led to two of my least favorite things happening at this show: One, some dude at the bar took the liberty of maintaining an ongoing conversation with Porterfield, chatting him up like they were buddies, awkwardly obligating the band to politely thank him for his kind words over and over again. Two, in response to this guy's question about "Taking Alcatraz," Porterfield told the story behind the song. Part of the wonder of music is the way we all experience it and interpret it differently; when it comes to non-fiction, I like knowing the author's intent, but in this context, knowing the backstory totally undercuts that magic.
(5) You should just go ahead and listen to the album now. Truly incredible stuff.