Gregory Porter is no stranger to the Royal Albert Hall, the prestigious venue in which he deems “one of the most fantastic cities in the world”. The two-time Grammy winner has been a regular guest of the venue over the past decade, his last visit being his sold-out series in 2021 for the venue’s 150th anniversary. Thursday night’s concert was the first of a trio of shows over the weekend, in which Porter is determined to spread nothing but love and positivity.
Supporting act Mica Millar took the stage at 7:30pm and immediately set the joyous tone for the night to come with her uplifting song Girls. The Manchester-based soul singer recently won Jazz FM’s ‘Soul Act of the Year 2022’ award off the back of her self-written, arranged and produced debut album Heaven Knows. All but one of the songs performed were from her debut, but the highlight was without a doubt When You’re Gone, a power ballad from her upcoming album that promises exciting things to come from Millar in the future.
After a short intermission, Porter’s band and backing orchestra filled the stage. With The Kingdom Orchestra all tuned and ready to go, the set kicked off with the explosive, gospel-infused Revival, a highlight off of Porter’s 2020 album All Rise. The instruments momentarily paused at the turn of the chorus before Porter belted “but you lift me higher, out of the fire, out of the flames”, with the band erupting back to life with an energy that filled the whole auditorium – I couldn’t help but picture it performed in a stadium with pyrotechnics blasting from the stage.
Between performances, Porter regaled the audience with stories that felt both charming and meaningful. For example, before performing Mister Holland, he described an experience as a 15-year-old secretly visiting his crush, whose father chased him away for having the wrong colour skin. He contrasted this with an anecdote of being welcomed into the home of friend and collaborator Jools Holland, describing how they ate good food, listened to the blues and fed the ducks. Porter had a good sense of humour throughout the evening. He got a good laugh from the audience in one particular moment when he abruptly began and ended a story with: “Do you know-? Yeah of course you know. That’s all I’m going to say!”
The Mister Holland performance was a highlight of the evening. While the studio track is rather unfulfilling with how prematurely it fades out, here Porter allows the song to breathe and the band is pushed to their limit as the tempo gets faster and faster – drummer Emanuel Harrold deserves a mention for his untiringly precise performance. Another highlight was the highly interactive rendition of Porter’s classic Liquid Spirit which had the audience singing and clapping along. Pianist Chip Crawford was definitely feeling the spirit here, delivering an electrifying solo that was met by huge applause while he punched the air with pure excitement.
The best moment of the evening came towards the end. Bassist Jamal Nichols was finally given his moment in the spotlight with a medley that cycled through some iconic soul classics. Eventually the bass settled on the instantly recognisable My Girl by The Temptations, leading to a crowd-pleasing sing-along during which Porter busted a few dance moves. The rest of the band joined in as the song morphed into a cover of Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone. Following this was an epic performance of Musical Genocide from Porter’s Liquid Spirit album, a song that celebrates the history of blues and soul. It was a powerful closer in which Porter often stood back and nodded in respect as his band enjoyed their final chance to show off their skills. You Can Join My Band made for a lighthearted encore, with Porter pointing and winking at people in the audience as he encouraged us all to sing along.
All of the band members were excellent, but a special mention needs to go to the show-stealing performance of saxophonist Tivon Pennicott. The majority of songs featured a sax solo and every one was met by a rapturous applause. From the smooth and melodic solo of No Love Dying to the urgent squeals at the climax of Mister Holland, Pennicott showcased a superb musicianship that had the audience utterly transfixed while his bandmates often watched on in awe and admiration.
Porter thanked his fans for coming at the start of the show, and recognised “you could be anywhere tonight but you came here,” also adding “I hope we’re worthy of your time.” It struck me as remarkably humble for an artist of his fame, but also a very profound realisation of how valuable time actually is. Porter’s certainly aware of this – he introduced his song Concorde by describing his desire to spend as much time as possible with his loved ones, his “internal desire to be on the ground, to touch the soil”. Porter spent his two-hours of time here filling the audience with so much joy through his life-affirming music and his positive anecdotes. I’m certain not a single person in the Royal Albert Hall will have found Porter and his band unworthy of their time.
- If Love Is Overrated
- No Love Dying
- Don’t Lose Your Steam
- Be Good (Lion’s Song)
- Mister Holland
- Hey Laura
- Holding On
- Modern Apprentice
- Liquid Spirit
- Merry Go Round
- Faith In Love
- My Girl / Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone (The Temptations covers)
- Musical Genocide
- You Can Join My Band