Joe Pug – Rhythm Room, Phoenix, AZ 10/9/13

A charmingly lonely and eerie sustained harmonica note beckoned the crowd closer to the stage as Joe Pug solo entered calling everybody closer like a dinner bell. The set opener consisted of a down tempo rendition off the EP “Nation of Heat” but with deep rooted soul. Pugs eyes were a squint into the crowd that slowly lifted back into his head while he played as a vessel of music.

After the opener, a trio consisting of guitarist Greg Tuohey and upright bass player Matt Schuessler graced the stage and found an unstoppable chemistry that would follow along the course of their set. It wasn’t loud, it wasn’t flashy, but more like watching three friends play music in an ambiguous living room.

Looking around the packed house of the Rhythm Room everyone held their breath and watched as Pug and friends playfully performed their striking well-crafted folk music. Banter between songs was a line and hook that brought the onlookers closer into the living room experience. Pug’s disarming jokes and open chat with the random outbursts from the people at the show, were a confirmation of musicians that were thankful for an audience.  It was slow ego, to no ego at all, as the band played on.

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Pug made mention of his dad happily stoned in a sleep apnea mask during between song banter. Then led into “I Do my Fathers Drugs” now turned into a heartfelt ballad, giving understanding to the crowd of where the brilliant singer/ songwriter was coming from. It was disarming then charming, then disappointing to hear songs played at a slower tempo then on the emotively visceral albums

After the show, this writer had the opportunity to sit down with members of the band by way of Robert Simonds, a professional violinist with the Louisville Orchestra who had lured Pug into playing  a downtown chamber series with members of the Phoenix Symphony . Sitting in a circle with Pug and Tuohey, Simonds called over to Schuessler who was sitting at the bar to join the circle. Schuessler gave a playfully gruff retort.. “I’m eating my nuts,” that ensued in laughter.

Pug played the part of a storyteller, while Tuohey acted as complimentary commentary to a shared experience on the good and bad nuances of what touring bands deal with when the stage lights are over. Delving into the mechanical animal of the music industry about some of the unfair circumstances that touring bands face and how many hands take a little piece of what is raised in an art-form. Joe commented a little on the songwriting process and how it was best for him to take himself out of his musical playing patterns when writing new material.  It was an unassuming circle of musician shop talk, but reveling in the good parts that ended  in an even balance. The bar was now desolate aside from the members in the circle and the pleasant bar tender who allowed a couple “one last rounds.” Finally bar lights came on before last call and it was time to go home.

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