Oakland dwellers Port O'Brien brought their lush arrangements to a packed crowd at Muddy Waters last Wednesday night.

“We have a limited amount of mikes up here, and we need ’em to hear a few instruments, but if we’re all quiet we can kinda vibe-out,” said Port O’Brien lead singer Van Pierszalowski before jumping into a slow and harmonious song featuring soul-wrenching saw and bow, accordion, and layers of layers guitar, vocals, and banjo. Not often does one get to witness such a treat as a live saw and bow, so it was a shame the folks in the back of a packed Muddy Waters Cafe couldn’t hear it, as the sound it produced was both ghostly and beautiful.

The versatile five-piece finished up their interlude, with members trading saw and bow for bass guitar, and accordion for drums, before passionately starting in on songs from their new album, All We Could Do Was Sing. Pierszalowski donned a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) T-shirt and smirked as he tore through “A Bird Flies By,” “Fisherman’s Son,” and “Tree Bones,” while his crowd sang along diligently. Some of the songs were cut disappointingly short (specifically “Tree Bones” and “Close the Lid”), but were appreciated by the crowd all the same.

At one point Pierszalowski even gave out his personal cell phone number, asking the crowd to dial it so he could play his Mariah Carey ringtone over his mic. From there, he begged anyone close enough to grab a pot and pan from a box at the front of the stage to clamor along to the band’s last song of the evening, “I Woke Up Today.”

Also in tow on Wednesday were opening bands Le Petit Protest and The Builders and The Butchers. Although the three bands seemed to mix about as well as oil and water, together they merged like a fine wine blend. The Builders and The Butchers played a remarkable set, featuring vocals most comparable to the raw sound of Spencer Moody (of Murder City Devils/Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death fame), with the addition of mandolin guitar, a tin funnel over a lead mike, and desperado-style trumpeting, all resulting in a sound that was part rockabilly, part bluegrass goodness.


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