American singer-songwriter Joe Pug brightens up a Monday night in Auckland with songs from his new record The Flood in Color.
Joe Pug writes short songs. Short songs are good; he often finds it easier to communicate something meaningful and impactful through the art of the song. Ask his wife. Short songs are good, but even shorter ones are perfect. In the sense that to try and make them longer would not make them better, just less perfect. So why climb the fuckin’ tree when there is sweet, low hanging fruit?
That’s just a little taste of the wry humour that Joe Pugliese brings to his audience and to his songs, but before we get to that, Lindon Puffin entertains us with his own version of the travelling troubadour, middle-aged folkie. With two young kids (same as Joe), which I deduce is the cause of a change in his demeanour to happy angry rather than just plain mad.
Lindon fronted the glam rock band The Puffins in the 90s before landing back in Lyttleton and converting to solo folk, pop, rockabilly with a touch of country. You might say Americana. And now he plays, lots and lots of gigs in lots and lots of little clubs and bars and occasionally in the limelight supporting visiting troubadours who share his passion for short songs.
Good mates with Adam McGrath, who is still very angry, but humble too, and former flatmates along with Delaney in decrepit, derelict, dickful domiciles in darkest Lyttleton. Mafia.
And he writes catchy, folky tunes with thoughtfully poetic lyrics, conveyed through cheerful banter which is infectious. Hence my opening comment that, although there is still some anger in that poetry, it’s more happy than sad, more rational than mad, especially afterwards. Post.
Songs like Send in the Drones. Chasing the fat old white men with their facelift wives…(but I’m not angry, I’m happy !!!).
Maybe the Truth, for Kartik, the Indian tourist he met on the plane who makes fighters for his air force.
A song about teaching his children not to be dicks when they grow up, a reference to Hosking and other angry old men. A song for Adam, with accompanying harmonica which invokes Dylan and Donovan on speed. A Sing Song, remembering that old abode with Delaney. And penultimately the self-deprecating joker does a very decent job of Bob’s Jokerman before ending with This Song’s for You, a world first, at least at The Tuning Fork, for audience participation. Whistling. I kid you not.
It’s a good start for a Monday evening.
On comes the Americana troubadour, looking more like a Wall Street banker, minus the tie, in his smart grey suit and brown brogues.
Happy to be here, thankful there are people out on a Monday night, been here three times before, but never with the remnants of laryngitis which hit him hard when he landed in Sydney a couple of weeks back.
So, the incongruous appearance notwithstanding, here we go with a, not a waltz, more like a foxtrot through Joe’s catalogue with an understandable emphasis on the latest record The Flood in Color. Along with the first EP, 2009’s Nation of Heat.
Joe Pug was studying drama and playwriting before his epiphany at age 21 which prompted an escape to Chicago in a sudden decision to find the way of his dreams. Not writing for others to speak, but for himself to speak, in the time-honoured tradition of the American troubadour, through his music, and carefully crafted lyrics, inspired by the literary greats of American history and his recent study. People like Walt Whitman, John Steinbeck, Raymond Carver and Cormac McCarthy. An eclectic bunch there, I think, using a word I know well. And if you can say something in less words, do it in even less. Short is good. Long is trying to find words which end up diluting the message. Perfection is a song to which you can add or subtract nothing, although that means they are too short to be short. So just good is enough.
Open mic nights were the early school, but graduation came on a tour supporting Steve Earle, watching and admiring and imitating. And then being adopted by the Nashville factory of magnificence, and joining the crowd, because that’s enough, just be part of the crowd, it’s bloody hard to stand out.
And so, as Joe cruises through his repertoire of short, meaningful songs, it’s hard to pin him down, but so what, what’s wrong with everyman?
Nothing, if you gain respect. Respect is the next best thing, maybe the first best thing, to stardom, which is hard to maintain.
And with songs which evoke the blues coming down with a marching band; the chaos of an American nation of heat, the apathy to climate change which will bring the flood in color, an echo to Justin Townes Earle doing his father’s drugs, and a life lesson in as long as you’re not finished, you can start all over again, Joe Pug is anchored in the American paradox.
But breaking through with his melodies to an audience of Kiwis who know his songs, who sing along, and ask for more, that’s something, however small, and he is humble and grateful. Verbal pugilism, nice songs.
And a sense of humour, wry and also self-deprecating, more in the kiwi way. Like the song which never made the album, I Don’t Work in a Bank, which is supposed to be about his wife looking for more money, but I’ll bet she’s not like that, she’s just happy that he looks like he works there.
But who is he like? Damn, I get fixated, I need a fix. Marc Cohn comes to mind, and then he leads us on, as he switches to keyboard and announces a medley of Billy Joel hits, which is not true, but gives me a clue. He could be a New York pop guy, just like Billy; he could be a crooner, just like Harry, he could cross over if he wanted to. He could be a punk.
But I hope he doesn’t. He’s doing just fine in Americana. Even with laryngitis. He keeps going, nicely, not pugnacious. Just Pug.
And the set is also short, just shy of an hour, almost perfect, but short enough to be very, very good.
Joe Pug's setlist in Auckland
- Hymn 35 (Nation of Heat EP)
- The Letdown (Flood in Color)
- The Flood in Color (Ditto)
- After Curfew (Ditto)
- Nation of Heat ( EP)
- Blues Came Down (Flood in Color)
- Fathers Drugs (Nation of Heat)
- Low Hanging Fruit (Short songs of perfection)
- If Still it Can’t Be Found (Windfall)
- Bright Beginnings (Windfall)
- I Don’t Work in a Bank (songs that never made the album)
- Long Midnight (Flood in Color)
- Exit (Ditto)
- Hymn 101 (Nation of Heat)
- Veteran Fighter (Windfall)
- The Great Despiser (Great Despiser)
- Deep Dark Wells (ditto)
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Released: 19 Jul 2019