Joe Pug headlined a show at The Rumba Cafe in Columbus on Tuesday night, and, as is often the case, he performed a strong and entertaining set. I’m a fan of Pug’s folk songwriting chops — he has a penchant for Dylan-like storytelling and the gravel and drawl in his voice only adds to those comparisons. As a live performer, Pug is energetic and has a knack for quieting a chatty crowd with his guitar-plucking and harmonica-playing talents. That came in handy on Tuesday, as the audience at this show provided plenty of background noise at times.
The first time I saw Pug, in the spring of 2010, he was solo and still took hold of a welcoming crowd. On Tuesday, he performed with the Hundred Mile Band, which consisted of an upright bass and electric guitar accompaniment to Pug’s acoustic guitar and harmonica. The extra help only made Pug’s performance stronger. With one full-length album — the strong effort of last year’s Messenger — fleshing out some of the songs made things a little more interesting.
Pug backed away from the mic and led an audience sing-along with the song that helped him break through, “Hymn #101” from his Nation of Heat EP. Just like me, plenty of people in the audience knew every word, and it made the show feel a little more intimate. He played all but two songs from Messenger, with “The Door Was Always Open” and “Unsophisticated Heart” among my favorites. All in all, it was a solid set.
I left incredibly impressed by Philadelphia’s Strand of Oaks, aka Tim Showalter. The aforementioned chatty crowd never shut up during Showalter’s performance, but he drew me in nonetheless. He stood on stage with his long hair, full beard and blazer and cut straight to the heart with his echoing electric guitar and powerful pipes. The highlight for me was “Daniel’s Blues,” the tune about John Belushi’s death told from the perspective of fellow SNL alum Dan Aykroyd. That song is so sad — as plenty of the songs on the fantastic Pope Killdragon are — and hearing it live was even more powerful.
In between songs, Showalter was engaging and friendly. He revealed that, before becoming a musician, he was a second-grade teacher at a Hebrew day school as well as a school bus driver. “We used to drive around listening to stuff like Sigur Ros and Mogwai. And the kids made up these crazy, awesome stories,” Showalter said with a laugh. And some of those stories inspired bits and pieces of Pope Killdragon. That was the coolest thing I heard all night.
Local opener Dolfish performed a quick-and-dirty set of solo material. We featured Dolfish, also known as Max Sollisch, in our Valentine’s Day mix with his song “Your Love Is Bummin’ Me Out.” Sollisch saved that song for last, and his quirky lyrics and vocals — think Matthew Thomas Dillon of Windmill — were a treat to listen to.