“It just got really effing cold.” These words were spoken by a woman in the corner, bundling up with her green fall jacket and sipping her beer. It wasn’t a reproachful or angry comment, more of an observation than anything. The occasion was Port St. Willow taking the stage at the Mercury Lounge, doused in darkness that broke only for a projected image of intermittent white spots, similar to fireflies. The aforementioned woman was not wrong; between sets, the temperature dropped around 20 degrees, turning Mercury Lounge as chilly as the October NYC night quietly relaxing outside.
Port St. Willow seemed to almost demand the cool atmosphere, matching it with their ethereal harmonies and pounding drums that seemed to take the air around and suck it in. There is space in the band’s stunning album, Holiday, but that space was filled in last night with distortion and tangible pain. Lead singer and project leader Nick Principe has a unique singing style; it is almost ghostly in its falsetto, something that isn’t quite there but you can’t ignore it. It’s enough to give goosebumps on top of the ones created by the cool temperature. His singing partner for the evening complimented his emotions with her more surreal vocals, a wisp among the forest rather than a fellow traveler.
And that’s what makes both Holiday and the band’s live set so enthralling: the group takes you on sonic journeys. Between foreboding drum rolls on the toms and bursts of guitar feedback, there is a consistent evolution of sound, from the smallest twinkle to full-blown explosions of beauty. The projections behind the band only helped strengthen this narrative, as Earth became an indistinct color palette before turning into a particularly memorable barrage of fire rain. The end of the world came and went and there was only noise among the silence, a love story that you couldn’t assign to one person.
Opening the night was Conveyor, a fitting contrast for Port St. Willow’s detached gorgeous sound. The five-piece filled the sparse room with its tropically-tinged indie rock, taking trips into both electronics and more traditionally acoustic sounds. The band has been compared to Animal Collective, which is reductive to a fault, but live, one can see similarities between the vocal styles of Conveyor’s lead singer and Avey Tare. It’s not enough to distract; it’s more a case of a band taking readily available influences and meshing them with their own interests. The resulting 10 song set was thrillingly professional; every note sounded as if it took years of practice to nail down. While banter was a bit on the uncomfortable side (this may be a result of a crowd that was still at the bar, warming up from being undressed in that nippy night), it was a minor distraction to an otherwise airtight set.