Friday night, Chris Porterfield, the driving force behind Field Report, took to The Independent’s stage solo in support of Joe Pug. In retrospect, Porterfield’s lonesome, heartfelt set stood in stark contrast to headliner Pug’s high energy, Texas roadhouse act where every song ended with a flourish of the guitar and spin on cowboy boots. Not to mess with Texas, because I did enjoy Joe Pug, but there was a real and rare feeling of authenticity with Porterfield on stage.
The venue had already swelled to a decent crowd of around 300 of its 500 capacity, when Porterfield walked onto the stage with his guitar and simply introducing himself as “Chris.” There is always a weird vulnerable feeling when you see someone take a stage alone framed by all the equipment of a headliner, but as Chris opened with “Decision Day” you could tell he was someone comfortable in his own skin.
“Decision Day” is the first track off Field Report’s new album Marigolden. From an impossibly reflective resonator guitar came jangling melodies, and a soothing electronic tone waxed and waned from a pedal at his feet. Deep within his torso, an earthen but steady voice weaved lyrics with the familiarity one comes to expect from folk rock. The lyrics come at you fast and you don’t always have time to think and organize them. As a result, understanding of the lyrics is more of a feeling or a motif than a complete story.
Between songs, Chris spent a good deal of time retuning his guitar, perhaps a result of newer strings. He filled this time by opening up completely to the audience in the form of a question and answer. Someone yelled, “Aaron Rodgers or cheese?” The Milwaukee resident answered, “I was born in Minnesota so cheese.” Another person asks, “Favorite drink?” Chris responded enthusiastically, “Coffee!” “Favorite beer?” shouted another in the crowd. Chris responds, “All of them. That’s why I had to quit drinking two years ago.” The response stuck with me because of the suddenness and honesty in which it was delivered.
Another look into the artist’s life came before his third song. While he again worked to tune his guitar he explained how he is sometimes contacted by contractors who want to use a song, but don’t want to pay the royalties involved so instead commission a similar song. He explained that he wrote the song “Home (Leave The Lights On)” for one of these opportunities but it turned out too sad and instead became one of the more dynamic songs on Marigolden. This was the only point in the show where I felt a little disappointed by the solo show, because the album version straddles the boundaries between folk, rock and electronica for a really unique and powerful sound.
My favorite song was “Pale Rider” which you can see below with a great explanation of what inspired him to write it.
By the time Chris announced his last song, the crowd had grown by at least 100 people and unfortunately they were one of the chattiest audiences I have experienced in a while. While I may have been distracted by a talkative crowd near the back bar, Chris was locked in. The finale was “Summons,” a song about loss, longing and struggle. You can tell it’s personal, and it’s definitely visceral.
I got all these friends in Durham
And I never know their names
And if I gotta, I could probably make it home
And I’ve been two weeks dry
In a bar every night
And I’ve been pissing coffee, quinine and lime
When he had played his last note I felt like I knew more about the Chris Porterfield than artists usually share under the stage lights, and I was thoroughly entertained at the same time.