Joe Pug (photo: Joshua Huver)
Shortly after Phono del Sol wrapped up at Potrero del Sol Park in San Francisco on Saturday July 9, a wholly independent live music experience was waiting for them at The Independent with Joe Pug.
In what proved to be a remarkably poignant evening, only three separate musicians graced the stage all night: Korey Dane, his guest keyboardist, and Joe Pug. The outspoken, yet almost shy, demeanor of opening solo act Korey Dane’s stage presence was only heightened by a folded-up figure on a small piano, who kept his head down and his movements deliberate.
Dane, a true troubadour in that I met the owners of the couch he slept on the night before, was in rare form Saturday night, having spent much of the day indulging in Legend of 91. Apologetic and loose, Dane lamented he would not be able to stick around and hawk merchandise as a good salesman ought, for he needed to bust his ass back to Los Angeles.
“I’ll be back soon though,” he said. He started to admit not knowing the exact date, only to have a trustworthy source in the crowd shouting “The 28th!” Yes, in case you missed this solo performance, Dane will be back at The Independent once again on July 28th with a full band in tow.
“The last real job I had we worked at a shitty independent movie theater,” recalled Dane, as he went on to describe a Clerks-level of committment to the job, sometimes refusing to open the theater at all. He noted the title of the tune, “Thieves,” and how the record it is featured on was an ode to his grandfather’s nickname, Youngblood.
A single tiny piano and one left-handed guitar were all that needed to be removed from the stage, and Pug’s two guitars were already in place, making for a stagehand’s dream in between sets. Still, the ultimate chill vibe of a low-key open mic pervaded the room, and no one was rushing on or off stage.
When the time came for Pug to take command of the room, the lights went low and he strode to center stage, eager to address the crowd. Although Pug treated the crowd to a single set, the banter was priceless and the emotions carried in the heart of the songs was nothing short of palpable.
The first four songs of the set represented four of Pug’s earlier efforts, beginning with “Lock The Door, Christina” and “I Do My Father’s Drugs” from his second and first release in 2009, In The Meantime and Nation Of Heat, respectively. From there he moved forward in time to 2010’s Messanger with “How Good You Are” and “Deep Dark Wells” from 2012’s The Great Despiser. Pug’s gritty vocals have only increased in age and understanding since he shared his gifts with the world, and on songs like “Not So Sure” and the title track to his first EP, Nation of Heat, the growth elevates the emotion they carry.
Ahead of the next track, Pug took his first lengthy storyteller break to inform the audience that he has recently lost his ‘edge.’
“These songs were all written before I lost my edge. Know how I know I lost my edge? It was last week,” Pug elaborated: Some people soul search, other people meditate. I use my late-nigh inebriated Amazon purchases as the barometer I use to measure my dark little heart. In my 20s, it’d be a cool book of Rimbaud poetry, or a 1st pressing of Fugazi on vinyl. A beacon of beauty and authenticity from my heart. But last week I recieved at my door a giant box that gave me the impression something was living inside of it, and I had to get it open before my wife comes home. I discovered I have moved on from expressing beauty and authenticity in my late night purchases, and instead decided to focus on a shitload of wet yeast. Pounds of it.”
As the audience laughed along, Pug returned to 2009 with “Dodging The Wind” and “Nation Of Heat,” lively songs written by a man who would never dream ordering pounds of wet yeast to his front door. The rest of the set that followed primarily showcased Pug’s revitalized sense of wonderment in music. After briefly contemplating quitting music altogether, beginning with “Stay and Dance,” one of the new songs he penned for the new album Windfall.
Another story, this one directly relating to his dilemma of whether or not to stay in music came ahead of the lead single from Windfall, “If Still It Can’t Be Found” — the first song he wrote for the album. While Pug did not spare any details about encountering a fully nude man in his mid-70s at a gig in Sweden, you fine readers will be spared.
“We had an eight-week tour in Europe, which sounds really cool, right? Well, six of those eight weeks were in Sweden, and if you’re unaware, Sweden really only has two and a half cities that are connected by infinite feudal villages with healthcare,” explained Pug. “So we played in those cities, and every village in between. I had a gig in a bowling alley, and in Sweden they take bowling a little more seriously.” He continued, explaining a face-to-face encounter with a man in the locker room, explaining what he described to be the exact moment he first felt any remorse or doubt about not finishing college.
It was an appropriate intro to “If Still It Can’t Be Found” because the song, while the final track on the new album, was essentially a happy accident that reignited Pug’s creativity and desire to make music. He continued pulling from the new record, treating the audience to “Bright Beginnings,” “Pair of Shadows,” and “Burn and Shine.”
“I’m trying not to lump too many existential songs together,” he said ahead of the title track to 2012’s The great Despiser, “but it’s kinda difficult with my catalog.”
The set closed with a hauntingly beautiful love song “Speak Softly, Diana.” Ahead of the song, Pug remarked when he wrote it for his wife, she compared it to the darker side of Townes Van Zandt’s tunes, but the appreciation (especially given such a dark perspective) was only increased among the intently listening audience.
Pug left the stage briefly, but returned for a single-song encore. “Hymn #101” is the song that launched Pug from nobody to comparisons to the greats. Watch the video of the performance below.