It was the night of the singer-songwriters as Joe Pug and Carson McHone make a stop at Chicago’s City Winery.
On a cold Chicago winter evening, there’s nothing more inviting than the live room at the City Winery, with a glass of wine in hand listening to two singer-songwriters. Once everyone got settled and cozied in with their wine, it was time for Carson McHone to start the night off, with Joe Pug briefly taking to the stage to introduce his opening act. Her set had the City Winery captivated and a respectful silence settled over the room as everyone took in her performance. Carson’s beautiful voice wrapped itself around the venue and at times her performance was reminiscent of both Jewel and Dolly Parton. It was the perfect start to the evening.
Joe Pug stepped out on to the stage to a very warm welcome from the Chicago audience who were subsequently mesmerized from the first note as his voice and the music drew them all in. Whilst it was just Joe, a guitar and a harmonica (and at times a piano) the sound was huge, making it feel as if there were more than just one person on stage. It’s been three years since the release of Windfall, but that didn’t mean there was a shortage of new material as he played some yet to be released songs. Thankfully it shouldn’t be too long to wait before this new material is released, with the final recording sessions being scheduled for next week.
Pug’s gentle yet intricate finger-picking style is an impressive sight to behold especially on the opening notes of “Bright Beginnings” and you can’t help but be impressed by a musician effortlessly playing like that while singing at the same time. Much has been said of Pug’s songwriting, with Dylan comparison’s abounding. It’s fair to say that he is a songwriter with a truly poetic soul. The strong imagery in his lyrics paired with his melodies/arrangements make for a powerful combination. In a live environment, with your focus entirely on his performance, you’ll find yourself being taken away to places within you that may be dark or light but which will always be interesting. Speaking of poetry, Pug’s musicalization of his haiku-style poem “Low Hanging Fruit” certainly injected some light-hearted humor into the evening and highlighted how at ease he is up on a stage engaging an audience.
One thing that you can say for certain is that Pug has a truly unique voice, one that he demonstrated the power of as he stepped away from the microphone twice during the night, using the natural throw of his voice to fill the room. These unmic’d interludes also had the added benefit of making the people at the back of the room, who were clearly beginning to feel the benefit of the wine, quieten down once again.
In a world where music can all too often sound the same these days, it’s always refreshing to hear a unique voice emerge from the musical maelstrom. Pug, in the same vein as artists such as John Moreland and Jason Isbell, brings something special to the table, it’s music that feels like it matters and the world definitely needs more of that. If he’s performing near you, make a date to go and spend a night with him – you want to do it as soon as possible though, as who knows what will happen to him once his wife actually hears the lyrics to “I Don’t Work In A Bank”!!