Review: Joe Pug at The Sugar ClubTweet
Review: Nicola Byrne
Joe Pug is a dude. He’s a guy and his guitar, who loves a country tune, and leaves little room for you to fault him. In action since 2007, with two EPs and a début album behind him, Joe clearly thrives in a live environment. A Maryland native, Pug has followed in the footsteps of such musicians as Josh Ritter, Bob Dylan, all the while innovating the often ‘stale’ aesthetic of the American folk/country genre. Well, tonight, he’s taking over the Sugar Club—a venue that could have well been made for him.
Bhi Bhiman is onstage when I arrive. His short set revolves around laid-back strumming teamed with smoother-than-dripping-caramel vocals. Even at a time of relative disorder in the Sugar Club—what with arrivals and initial trips to the bar—Bhiman demands the audience attention with his effortless sounds.
No sooner had he left, Joe Pug runs on stage with a friendly wave. No frills, just Nobody’s Man. The attention borrowed to Bhiman doesn’t wane for a second. “It’s been too long,” says Pug of his visit to Dublin, before pulling out a shiny silver contraption that looked like, literally, his secret weapon.
It’s his harmonica, an instrument that he wears in a fashion akin to how a 90s nerd stereotype wears a neck brace. Lock The Door Cristina is the first track to show it off. A hands-off harmonica takes a bit of getting used to, with Joe looking as if he’s trying to inflate a balloon with a pin-prick in it. But the sound, the sound erases any foolishness attached.
The Messenger, followed by I Do My Father’s Drugs, really show off Pug’s use of the piercing harmonica, with the sound cutting through the room like a rusty blade. No one’s injured, they’re lapping it up. Pug just stands there, while How Good You Are transforms the Sugar Club into hazy straw fields on an American countryside summer’s day. It’s not about creating energy. For Pug, it’s about creating the haze.
Joe Pug’s live vocals are flawless, growling—a nod, if not a head-butt, at his compared contemporaries. He and his sidekick guitarist, Greg Tuohey, mesh seamlessly in creating a sound almost identical to studio quality. The audience can sense every strain of their effort—in the best possible way. During a cathartic Hymn #101, candles could be heard flickering on the tables among the audience. If the noise wasn’t coming from Pug, it wasn’t being made. The track closed to a rapturous applause of appreciation, but also moaned over the fact that it had finished.
The lights drop and a spotlight is shone on Pug, hitting him in way that makes him seem unreal. He introduces his next song as a Tex Thomas classic, written on a postcard to his brother in jail. Legend has it, his management saw the card and insisted he turn it into lyrics. “We’re all the better for it,” says Pug, breaking into an ethereal rendition of Start Again, and you can tell he really means it.
“Joe Fucking Pug,” says the hype man, straight to the point. Pug reappears, hopping onstage for an encore. A nice finish to a no-frills show, of nothing but great homely folk music.