Joe Pug delivers a night of heartfelt music at New World Brewery

A review of the Wed., April 24 show.

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click to enlarge Joe Pug, New World Brewery, Wed., April 24, 2013 - Nicole Kibert/elawgrrl
Nicole Kibert/elawgrrl
Joe Pug, New World Brewery, Wed., April 24, 2013

As I looked back over my notes from Joe Pug’s show at the New World last Wed., April 24, one word kept popping up: genuine. Lauris Vidal’s genuine excitement to be playing with Matt Burke and Joe Pug. Matt’s genuine devotion to Florida, Bradenton specifically, where he grew up and has commemorated in song. Pug’s genuine surprise at and gratefulness for the robust turnout at the show, his first in Tampa and on a weekday, no less. I could keep going, but you get the idea. [Text by Shae, photos by Nicole.]

Lauris Vidal warmed-up the place seated behind a kick drum and hi-hats, with some sort of cigar box guitar/ukulele hybrid that appeared to be homemade in hand. The contraption had a tinny sound that blended well with Vidal’s bluesy music. After about three songs, Vidal switched over to a funky old electric guitar that he plucked and strummed while purring and growling through songs that couldn’t be described as folksy or rocking but some elevated mix of all the two. Though his music was rooted in the blues and Americana of yore, his quirky lyrics kept things from becoming a pastiche of the past.

Is it superfluous to review Matt Burke’s set for a Tampa audience? If someone in the area doesn’t know him by name, surely they’ve heard and seen his band, Have Gun Will Travel, a staple of the Florida scene. But for those who may be living in a bubble, let me recap. Burke took to the patio with a Gibson Jumbo acoustic guitar. If a young Dylan, Dan Bern and Tom Petty sang into a mason jar, shook it up and released the sound, it would be Burke’s voice. And with this voice, he sang solid folk songs about the vicissitudes of life that spanned HGWT’s discography. As a testament to the Floridian tradition of loving their own, several of the people around me knew every word to Burke’s songs and sang along without apology.

By the time Joe Pug and his band, consisting of upright bassist Matt Schuessler and guitarist Greg Tuohey, began tuning their rack of Guild acoustic guitars and adjusting their monitors, the once-sparse patio had filled up nicely with a diverse audience. Those who had come for BBQ had stayed after their meals, and were joined by the crowd of people who don’t hit the streets until 10 p.m., no matter what day of the week.

From the beginning, Pug showed an obsessive attention to the quality of the sound his band made, to the point of stopping a song a few strums in to tune, and saying with a laugh, “I’m too old to start a song out of tune, you guys. I just can’t do it anymore.” This kind of quality control bleeds through to every facet of Pug’s creative output. It manifests in his skilled guitar playing, his dense, poetic lyrics reminiscent of Dylan, and his clear strong voice with just enough grit and sibilance in it to keep it impressive and interesting, but not too pretty. This doesn’t go to his head, however. He thanked everyone involved in making the night happen, including the audience, several times throughout his set, and manned the merch table himself after the show to sell his albums and shirts and to shake hands.

During the set, Pug and his band played all the songs I came to hear — including “How Good You Are” and “I Do My Father’s Drugs” — along with some I knew but came to appreciate more in the live setting, such as the cover of “Deep, Dark Wells” by Harvey Thomas Young, a musician who “never made it out of Texas,” as Pug explained. He ended with my personal favorite, “Hymn # 101,” before the audience pulled him back to the microphone with their cheers and whistles for an encore. Several people called out requests, and Pug complied, finishing out the night with “Call It What You Will” and “Nation of Heat.”

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