Cedar Rapids, Ia (April 8, 2016)
“There’s even a Count Clamula cape, which is presented to whoever f***s up the most that night.”
That’s part of how Willy Porter explained Carmen Nickerson’s comment about the last chord on a song being “Clamalicious” (clam meaning a poorly played note or chord). The explanation had the audience in stitches,which as a common occurrence between songs at this concert. Willy is one of those singer-songwriters with awesome guitar chops I love to hate, and who makes me even more jealous because he could be a stand up comedian if he wanted to. The humor, along with captivating songs and virtuoso guitar work were to be had in scads at CSPS Hall Friday night, April 8.
Willy has appeared at CSPS Hall numerous times, and this time he brought along the delightful Carmen Nickerson. They mesh seamlessly musically and during the chatter between songs. They remind me a lot of Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser in “Mad About You”, but with better singing voices.
It’s when they sing that the magic soars from the stage and wafts the audience into a celestial plane of musical utopia that is hard to match. This magic was especially effective in the intimate and acoustically marvelous venue of CSPS Hall. It’s clear Willy and Carmen delight in singing together, and share that delight with the audience. They each do their best to make the other sound good, and their best is as good as it gets. I’m saying that after attending hundreds of concerts by scores of performers over the past 3 ½ years at CSPS Hall. Willie has always delighted, but Friday, with Carmen at his side, was one of the top shows I’ve seen.
Listing which songs were the best of the show is downright hard, if not almost impossible. Even when Willy would switch up in the middle of tuning up for a song, the alternate number was as clam free (mostly) as one could hope for. Everyone was of course delighted by “Iowa Sky”, especially since Carmen is an Iowa native. Other songs such as “This Train” or “Freedom” demonstrate that Willy channels some of the “Common Man” lyrical sensibilities of Woody Guthrie infused with a bit of Ry Cooder and Tom Waits, to offer a few comparisons. Then there are songs like “How to Rob a Bank” which to me is what a song written by Will Rogers would be like.
Ok, now that the Obligatory Concert Review Name Dropping regarding Willy’s songs is over with, let me also point out the man has awesome guitar chops. He also has an awesomely unique 9 string baritone guitar which lets him play bass lines and chords/melody at the same time and not sound like he’s, well, clamming a lot of notes (see what I did there?)
Thus the magic begins with a tasty, vibalicious guitar intro grabbing your attention, then Willy or Carmen starts to sing, and just as you’re thinking the lyrics and melody and guitar work are enough to transform it all into one of those special, timeless musical moments, Willy and Carmen sing together and their combined voices loft things up to another level.
That’s basically what happened time after time Friday night. The side splitting lines Willy delivered in an admirably dead pan style were frosting on the cake. Now, I could have just left off most of this review except the last couple of paragraphs that sum things up, but I think George would consider that a clam as reviews for this site go. I don’t look good in a cape…