Every live show doesn’t have to be a marathon affair, with sweat-drenched musicians testing the depths of their catalog, and concertgoers wondering whether the gig will ever end.
Some nights, a short and sweet evening of genuine communion between artist and attendees is more than enough.
For the latter, see Joe Pug, who played a comparatively brief but engaging 70-minute Sunday night set for a standing-room only crowd inside 9th Ward @ Babeville.
Those familiar with the singer/songwriter's work since his earliest EPs cherish the vivid imagery and characters detailed in his lyrics, weaved through acoustic shifts and harmonica fills. Inevitable comparisons to influential musicians who’ve come before have followed, and all have created intrigue around a performer who’s been grinding on the road—including previous stops at Mohawk Place and 9th Ward—for more than a decade.
But whether familiar or first-time listeners of Pug, all at his latest Buffalo stop were treated to an intimate affair with an engaging storyteller, deft at luring interest into his lyrical journeys.
Pulling heavily from his 2015 release “Windfall” and debut “Nation of Heat” EP, Pug finger-picked his way through a set that started with the gorgeously plaintive “Lock the Door, Christiana” and harmonica proclamation of “Hymn #35.” Both tracks laid the groundwork for a night of lines that unfolded like a leafed-through novel, with each song its own short story of faces riding their own narrative arc through emotional struggle and search for some semblance of salvation.
And with each tune, those familiar sang along, while others could certainly hear remnants of Pug’s contemporaries in his cadence and chords.
While originals like “I Do My Father’s Drugs” and “Hymn #101” enjoyed added vocals from the night’s encircling crowd, “Burn and Shine” played like country rocker in the vein of Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town”—before the beautiful “One of Many” also recalled Earle’s “Galway Girl.” So much of the night’s most poignant material was evocative of author-minded artists like Josh Ritter. On “Bright Beginnings,” more than a few attendees may have heard the influence of Marc Cohn.
But with his potency on the declarative “Nation of Heat” and the prevailing optimism of set-ending “Deep Dark Wells,” Pug stood alone, away from comparisons and as his own entity, passionately connecting with his listeners through a product that’s wholly his.
Setlist: "Lock the Door, Christina"; "Hymn #35," "Burn and Shine; Not So Sure," "How Good Are You," "I Do My Father’s Drugs," "One of Many," "Call It What You Will," "Bright Beginnings," "Do You See My Colors Now" (new song), "I Don’t Work in a Bank" (new song), "Nation of Heat," "Hymn #101," "Veteran Fighter," "The Great Despiser," "Speak Plainly, Diana" and "Deep Dark Wells."
Joe Pug, Nov. 18 at the 9th Ward at Babeville