- One thing, which is my own fault, is that I got there late. Now, generally I pride myself on being early or at least on time, but for some reason we couldn’t get out the door Saturday night. By the time we got there, it was packed. I couldn’t see very well from way in the back, so we decided to go up to the balcony.
- Reason two that I am upset was that, apparently in the balcony, all people do is talk. For over an hour I was driven bonkers by these two idiots behind me who would not shut up. A woman to my right kept giving them dirty looks, but they didn’t care. They paid their money, just like everyone else.
- Finally, and maybe the worst part of the whole thing, for the purposes of this blog anyway, we were told that recording is not allowed, and that we would have to put our camera away. Well, let me just say that I was taken by surprise, as there was a security guard not 10 feet from us that didn’t say a thing, but this 400-pound lug grabbed a friend and ran all the way around the balcony to shut our little operation down. Therefore, and I apologize for this, the video quality that I work so hard to provide, is terrible because it was all shot on my iPhone.
The show itself, at least what I saw, was actually pretty good. Joe Pug is a guy who always leaves it out on the stage. If the audience is with him, he has no problem laying bare his heart and soul. On this particular night, he seemed very excited to be back home in Chicago, and playing for a crowd that was a bit more rowdy than his previous gigs.
He played almost every song he’s recorded thus far. A couple of my personal favorite’s, “I Do My Father’s Drugs,” and “Bury Me Far (From My Uniform)” were both performed with the passion and intensity that they deserve. One thing about Joe is that he knows his craft very well, and understands the complexity of live shows and displaying his emotion in a way the audience can relate to.
He brought a lot of guests on stage with him to play different songs. It all culminated in most of them returning to stage for a cover of Tom Waits‘ song “Old Shoes (& Postcards),” which was a nice moment, and a good song to leave with. Also joining him on stage was his friend, Jeremy Miller, who used to sneak him into after hours recording sessions for his first EP.
On his album, Messenger, Joe plays alone for the most part. A man, a guitar and a harmonica. Naturally critics and music lovers feel compelled to compare him to Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. While he isn’t at the talent level musically that they have reached, he does share a kind of kindred spirit with them.
His songs are all from the heart, without hiding, as some artists do, behind narratives about characters other than themselves. Joe Pug is 100% honest with his listeners and he wears his emotions right on his face.
There is a lot of good stuff on Messenger. I mentioned “Bury Me Far” already, and the song “Unsophisticated Heart” is a folky ballad with lyrics simple and heartfelt:
oh my eyes will be hard
and my voice will be guarded
my mind so bewildered
and buried in the garden
you may still know my by just one part
One problem I do have with Messenger, though, is that the lead title-track and the final track, “Speak Plainly Diana,” are full-on folk/rock songs that don’t quite fit with the other eight songs. They’re both good songs, and I wouldn’t lose them completely, but it disturbs the flow of a very good folk album with these more upbeat crowd-pleasers.
Maybe the issue is that Joe’s previous two releases were EPs. Putting a full-length album together isn’t easy. I could definitely see these songs being so much fun to play live that he felt he needed to include them. Fun they might be, but when you put them next to songs like “How Good You Are” and “Bury Me Far” it just doesn’t add up.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m a fan of Joe Pug and all three of his releases. His songwriting skills keep getting stronger, and his live performance is fun and touching, and I think if you went into one feeling a little down, you would leave with your spirits replenished with joy.
Messenger gets a strong recommendation from me. I add only that you should also go back and check out Nation of Heat and In The Meantime. In those two EPs he accomplishes more than most singer-songwriters do in a career.
- Joe Pug currently resides in Chicago.
- All of his releases: Messenger, In the Meantime, and Nation of Heat are available from his website, as well as iTunes.
- Check back soon for my interview with Joe Pug here on ChicagoTunes.net!
Joe Pug performing “Hymn 101”
Joe Pug performing “Nation of Heat”