Running late from the rain, I slipped into a side door of the main room at Union Transfer, and huddled into a spot near the front right of the stage. Raincoats were draped over the guard rails and balcony as people shed their layers to sway to the alternative folk of London-based Girl Ray. The set ended with a song that had some more guitar power, leaving the crowd with an energy to hold them over until Porches came out.
Aaron Maine, front man of Porches, emerged in a lime green crop top with silver earrings and black nails. After a heart-wrenching rendition of the song “Ono,” from Porches’ latest album The House, Maine timidly spoke to the crowd, saying he was amazed by the crowd in a quiet voice. The songs from his latest album, The House, can be depressing, as they follow his breakup with face of Frankie Cosmos, Greta Kline. So, after such a shy introduction, it seemed like the show would follow this sad tone.
But Maine started to gain confidence with the crowd. When the band started into “Find Me,” a popular song from their new album, everyone transitioned from gentle swaying to more head-banging and pulsing in tune with the synth-pop rhythms. Maine, feeling this animation, started to dance himself, turning around and shaking his hips to the beat. After the song, he spoke for a little, saying how “amazing it was to watch you all move,” and how surreal it felt to tour again.
He kept up this more positive spirit throughout the night, one time trading his guitar for a cowbell, and sharing the attention with his other bandmates, who contributed some supporting vocals in addition to their other instruments. Yet even as he started engaging more with everyone, Maine still started off each song being turned away from the audience, as if he lacked the confidence to look at the crowd as he began to sing.
In the recorded album, the rhythms start to blend together in resembling a modern version of 80’s pop, and Maine’s sad croon is carried through each song, making the album sound repetitive if you don’t give it a close listen. But when performed live, each song feels so distinct and organic, because Maine injects so much of his pain and emotion into the performance. The sheer level of desolation that went into writing the lyrics of songs like “Country,” “By My Side,” or “Goodbye hits you in a wave of anguish as Maine howls into the mic.
He closed the band’s set of about 15 songs with the promise of an encore if we wanted one. When they came back on for it, each band member slowly crawled out to their spots and grew their sound into “Be Apart,” as the audience sang along and moved to the music. Then, the purple stage lights faded to black, and Porches disappeared as silently as they had emerged.
After the concert ended, everyone was in the lobby waiting for Ubers and taxis. Looking around, I saw only strangers, yet I still felt the remnants of connection we had all just shared. It’s no secret that Porches’ music is sad pop, and to be frank, the concert alone wasn’t the most uplifting that I’d been to. But there’s something powerful about a room full of young people that are giving love and support to another young person as he sings lyrics like, “I have no idea / Who I see in the mirror.”
Aaron Maine’s skill is in his expression. His lyrics, though specific to his own personal pain, are vague enough that we can apply our own to them. They are often short and repetitive, like a meditative chant that you hope will cure you of your sadness if you say it enough. The House has the melancholiest tone of Porches’ albums, but I’d argue that it’s also the most spiritual.
One of the better songs from The House, “By My Side,” follows emotions of regret and understanding as Maine sings “And I don’t think that it’s fair / But I guess I understand / It’s my fault, this I know / It’s just hard to swallow.” These words are both universal and unique: we’ve all felt them, but we each picture a different moment of when we felt them in our head. This commonality in Porches’ music is what made it possible to leave the venue feeling more revived than crestfallen. In the wake of lonely misery, I found restoration in the company of its sound.