Joe Pug has come a long way since dropping out of college his senior year and moving to Chicago in order to pursue a career in music. Frustrated in his efforts to break into the music industry, Joe decided to bypass radio by recording his original songs to CD. He then handed them out and mailed them free of charge to whoever wanted a copy. Sometimes he even covered the postage. He also sought out every open mike he could find and, in between working construction, wrote song after song after song. This blue collar mentality slowly began to pay off as he built up an impressive fan base and ultimately got a recording deal with Nashville indie label Lightning Rod Records. Critical acclaim followed with many people being blown away by his thought provoking songs and earnest hipster/ folksy ways. A lot of those critics also compared him to a young Bob Dylan which, given his clever but ambiguous songwriting style and his steady harmonica play, should not have been too much of a surprise. In 2010 Joe Pug recorded his first full length album and toured extensively in support of that endeavor. In addition to opening for Levon Helm and Josh Ritter, he also played at Bonnaroo, Newport Folk Fest, and Lollapalooza. Another album, The Great Despiser, soon followed and Joe continues to tour coast to coast.
Last night, November 1, 2012, Joe Pug played at the Old Town School of Folk Music. This was my second time watching Joe Pug perform on stage. The first time was at the Congress Theatre where he performed in between heavy metal performers Baliff and alternative country stars Drive By Truckers. Although barely familiar with his work, I found myself enthralled by his dense and intelligent lyrics. He also played a pretty mean guitar and sang with a clear and friendly voice. His radio friendly song Speak Plainly Diana felt familiar to me, but it was the more layered offerings such as Hymn #35 which really drew me in. My wife and I both left the concert wishing that we could see him somewhere more intimate and, most importantly, somewhere that did not leave our feet sticking to the floor. The Old Town School of Folk fits both those criteria.
The entire night felt very much like a homecoming with Joe receiving ovations almost from the first time he stepped on stage. Fans made him feel further at home by calling out requests and otherwise professing their love. Joe seemed generally touched by this outpouring of support and on several occasions answered the audience directly. Although a little more humble than the average rock star, Joe Pug is every bit worth all the praise he has received. Joining him on stage was Matt Schuessler on bass and Greg Tuohey on guitar. Both musicians supported Joe well as he moved effortlessly between material he once gave away for free and songs composing his newest album The Great Despiser. It was the title track from that album, in fact, that I found the most emotionally gripping. Joe also played the hell out of Nation of Heat songs I Do My Fathers Drugs, Hymn #35, and Nobody’s Man. And when the lights went down and Matt and Greg left the stage Joe played on the stage alone, a sole poet who put everything he had on stage. Joe Pug has arrived.
Opening for Joe Pug was Amy Cook. Based in Austin, Amy was impressive with her strong voice and solid guitar playing. All her songs were engaging, but I found Hotel Lights especially haunting. She would be a good person to see perform again.
For tour dates or to download free music/ purchase music by Joe Pug click here: http://www.joepugmusic.com/ Information related to Amy Cook can be found here: http://www.amycook.com/ For an updated list of performances or other information related to The Old Town School of Folk Music click here: http://www.oldtownschool.org/
Photos by: Noel Schecter