Field Report Plays Spacious Songs at Riveting Iron Horse Show

The self-titled debut from Wisconsin’s Field Report is a lovely album, to be sure, but sometimes an album just doesn’t fully convey the majesty of a band’s music. That is absolutely the case with Field Report, which played a devastating show for too few people Wednesday night at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton. The group performed the entire album (though not in order), and hearing the music live was akin to seeing an image that looks flat from above suddenly expand into three dimensions.

Led by singer and songwriter Chris Porterfield, the band defined the songs onstage by the space within them. The music was open, atmospheric and understated enough to have you leaning forward in your seat to catch every nuance. Porterfield is a teller of stories, often downhearted and delivered in world-weary tones, and the band framed his narratives with subtle shades of pedal steel and baritone guitar, piano, bass and brushed drums. Low, keening guitar and a sad three-note piano figure drifted through “Captain Video,” and riveting vocal harmonies opened “I Am Not Waiting Anymore,” leading into a spare, dry shuffle beat. A soft blend of piano, banjo and baritone guitar underpinned three-part harmonies on the chorus of “Retaking Alacatraz,” a mournful song about a man paralyzed by indecision that becomes decisive.

Maybe it’s because Field Report hails from a place where cold weather plays an outsized role in life, but something about their songs evokes the washed-out light of deep winter, when puffs of breath drift through chill air under formless skies. There’s a lonesome romance to their music that penetrates as effectively as the coldest winter wind, and warms like a glass of whiskey by the fire.

— Eric R. Danton

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