La Blogothèque

Port O’Brien

Cambria Goodwin, Port O’Brien banjo player and singer, has a kind of California magic that renders New York City proprietors into rag dolls. The manager of Winnie’s, a Chinatown karaoke institution, had roundly refused to allow Port O’Brien to enter the venue with instruments. Kicked out to the street, Cambria looked over her defeated band and said, simply, “Give me a minute.” She re-entered the bar. Three minutes later, Cambria waves the band in.

A couple of karaoke numbers to give the impression that this group of friends is just here to do a little singing. And they are. Bassist Caleb Nichols slaughters the Gin Blossoms. Tsingtao all around. And then, the sharp observer notes, pots and pans are being passed through the bar crowd. Suddenly, singer Van Pierszalowski gives the crowd a quick lesson: “Sing it with me: Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh!” Live instruments appear and the song is underway.

A glorious and brutal stomp that shreds the barrier between band and audience. Check out the proprietor (seated to the left of the band). This guy’s still a little stumped by what’s happening inside his bar.

Port O’Brien has the arresting ability to take a beautiful and quiet song and turn it into a blistering and quiet song without you really noticing when things turned on you. Here’s “Don’t Take My Advice” in a courtyard-bar in Chinatown.

Ben Cramer, One Take New York