Soho Theatre, London
Al Porter is almost beside himself when he takes to the stage at London’s Soho Theatre for his first English headline show. He’s off the leash from Ireland, flown in via City airport and is having a whale of a time nipping in and out from his Airbnb in Piccadilly, telling a couple of Irish passers-by that he is “over and back” to his London abode before admitting to the audience: “In reality, I live at home with my Ma.”
At just 22, Porter is wide-eyed, excited and very much a man on the cusp of achieving greatness. In his native Ireland, he’s already well established with his own TV and radio show.
For Porter now though, the UK is new turf and he’s very much up for the challenge. Dressed to the nines in a three-piece suit, with perfectly coiffed hair and with a knowingly camp trot onto the stage, he proceeds to tell the audience that he is, in fact, what we think he is – Irish. From the off, the audience interaction begins as he sets his sights on hapless front rower Stephen, who bears the brunt of Porter’s pisstakes for the rest of the performance. Not that he should take it seriously, because with Al Porter nobody is safe. Catholics, homosexuals, heterosexuals, Jews, Muslims – everyone is in for a ribbing.
Porter is at his best when talking about his mother watching Don’t Tell The Bride, and his father’s conversations with his friends down the pub about Al giving blow-jobs. There’s no room for prudishness, with Porter recalling the night he had sex with a priest while on a trip to Lourdes.
Although much of his comedy is very much based during his Irish upbringing and life in Dublin, it certainly works for UK audiences. After an all-too-brief stint of just over an hour, Porter bows out, leaving you lurking around wondering if he might want to come to the pub for a pint.
Why? Because he’s a hoot.
Even making an album with Scarlett Johansson didn’t send Pete Yorn into the mainstream, with 2009’s Break Up pretty much nailed to the shelves. So the New Jersey singer could have been forgiven for going off in a sulk, having stayed silent since his sixth album in 2010.
But here he is again, six years later, and still sounding like he’s just one Radio 2 heavy rotation song away from being huge. Initially championed by REM, there’s nothing in this acoustic showcase of comeback album Arranging Time to suggest why it’s taken Yorn so long to return.
Yet, even without his backing band, there’s a lustiness to Yorn’s singing that’s full-throated without straying into mistaking hollering for passion.
The opening Lost Weekend sets the tone, as Yorn sings about escaping suburbia and possibly his own writer’s block with the tuneful-yet-ragged charm of his Noughties peers like Josh Rouse and Ben Kweller.
Yorn asks the crowd to let him know if “I sound shitty”, joking that his new sound engineer is still on trial, but the playful sentiment of the breezy She Was Weird perfectly cuts through the small basement bar.
He introduces Halifax by remarking that “It’s about the Halifax in Nova Scotia, but could be about Halifax anywhere”. Sure enough, there’s an everyman quality to its yearning for adventure and proves to be the show’s highlight.
With long curly hair bobbing as he gets stuck into the chewy Couldn’t Be The One, Yorn is the textbook definition of a troubadour who’ll ultimately keep plugging away, knowing the public will see sense one day and fall for his minstrel charms.
Whether that’ll happen on Arranging Time remains to be seen. But Yorn would certainly deserve more acclaim. He certainly avoids any obvious “big yawn” put-downs.
This might seem bold for an artist with only two singles to her name. However, after doing her first Live Lounge days before the gig, it’s clear from the off that Lipa oozes the star quality and confidence necessary to carry off such a statement.
Performing alongside her three-piece band, it’s a chameleonic sound that moves effortlessly through anything from pop, R&B, soul and house-tinged anthems.
Dressed in an otherworldly pink jacket that looks like it could be lifted straight from the set of Alice In Wonderland, the most instantly apparent thing about Lipa is her incredible vocal range, which shifts from a smokey croon to a wailing top end at will.
It’s obvious Lipa has more bangers than many recordings artists have two records in. It’s only a cover of Jamie xx’s I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) that shows weakness, running the risk of karaoke. But even that track proves she can spit, so she’s got the full package of a modern pop star.
Last Dance that follows resembles Jamie xx too, with a steel drum and looping guitar in the breakdown, and it’s a much better example of her palette.
It’s the last night of her tour, and Lipa announces “What better place to end it than London? So I want to see you all dancing.” Her band breaks into recent single Be The One. She slightly rushes her lines at first, looking almost as eager as those dancing at the front. But she has the composure to settle back in, finishing by resting over the mic stand, stood with her hand aloft. And it’s great to see someone so thoroughly enjoying herself.
Encoring with her Live Lounge cover of The Weeknd’s The Hills, it’s obvious Lipa’s band needs work on capturing the grittiness of his original if it’s to become a mainstay of her set too. But during the breakdown, as she tackles one of the biggest songs of last year, Lipa stands toe-to-toe with one of the biggest R&B stars on the planet. Like the rest of the show, she does it with effortless abandon.