Despite its' obvious folk traditions, current day New York City can be one maddening place for artists that work in more buttoned up kinds of means. It's a big and busy place, this city, and the endless daily racket often finds its' way into places it's frankly not suppose to. Check out our frustrated review
of Blitzen Trapper's recent foray into the Bowery Ballroom, for example. Still, there are a number of choice spots where an appreciative hush can be expected; Joe's Pub being one of them. For this, Horse Feathers
and Joe Pug
should truly count their blessings.
I had previously stumbled upon Mr. Pug on occasion in Chicago a few years back. The tuneful poet would periodically wander into a local Monday evening open mic I would frequent, stun the crowd with his classic brand of acoustic Americana, and generally pack up as quickly as he came. He was mysterious, somewhat elusive, and always devastatingly good. Not much has apparently changed since then.
Perched in the warm glaze of the stage lights, Pug handled a number of tunes from his well worn debut Nation of Heat
beautifully, adding a few unknowns to the set as well. His soulful croon, rusty pulls on a trusty harmonica, and warm acoustic strumming; Pug matched the very best qualities of his recorded work with his performance, enjoying added dynamics and nuance along the way. And while this Chicago songwriter's tunes are deadly serious, Pug the performer is not. Whether trading lines with an audience member who brought 13 people to the show just for him, or detailing his harrowing adventures in a New Hampshire barber shop days before (he calls his current do "the high and tight", admitting the barber "fucked him up"), Pug bookended his tunes with a loose and light touch. I'm guessing he should be able to do this until the day he dies if he so choses. To this end, let's hope he does.
For their part as headliners, Portland quartet Horse Feathers also made good use of the venue's subdued environment. Justin Ringle - bearded but young - sings in a slender falsetto...though here in the hush, his lyrics and melody balance themselves against the musical backdrop just so. That crucial backdrop consists of violinist Nathan Crockett, multi-instrumentalist (violin, banjo, mandolin, percussion) Sam Cooper, and cellist Heather Broderick. Without their glassy fits of Americana, Ringle might just be another quiet singer songwriter...hypothetically good, but possibly offering very little that flirts with being special. Instead he and his band are spectacular...made even more so by the collective, four part harmony that pumps the set with stunning texture and impressive bouts of overall dynamics along the way.
Leaning hard on tracks from their album, A House With No Home
, Ringle, Crockett, Cooper, and Broderick recreated one of last year's best records flawlessly. Having been one to appreciate its' authenticity before, seeing the live incarnation before me only adds to the increasingly growing mystique of this incredibly talented folk quartet. A prizewinning performance indeed.
Want to see the band yourself? Tune in to Baeble next week as we release an exclusive, acoustic performance from Horse Feathers as part of our next addition to the Guest Apartment Performance Series
. - David Pitz
Horse Feathers and Joe Pug Continue Their Tour Together:
May 15 2009 - Local 506 - Chapel Hill, North Carolina
May 16 2009 - Drunken Unicorn - Atlanta, Georgia
May 17 2009 - The Basement - Nashville, Tennessee
May 19 2009 - The Bottleneck - Lawrence, Kansas
May 20 2009 - Bluebird - Denver, Colorado
May 21 2009 - B-Side Lounge - Boulder, Colorado
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Horse Feathers on Myspace
Joe Pug on Myspace