The casual Joe Pug fan comes few and far between. Often, you’re crazy about the guy or you’ve never heard of him. This is something that, whether he knows it, the great despiser himself seemed immune to at Lincoln Hall on May 19.
During every tune and twang that was taken as gospel to by audience that filled the midsized venue wall-to-wall, fans shouted such praises as “Pug Nation!,” and in one instance “Goddamn you’re good!” Pug probably gets that one overexcited fan every night, but stopping toward the beginning of “Unsophisticated Heart” to chuckle and respond with “you fuckin’ messed me up” may not often occur.
A former Chicagoan by way of the Mid-Atlantic, the Windy City was certainly a stop Pug was looking forward to, and he was welcomed back with open arms for a two-night stint at a venue he’d previously appeared at. Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick introduced Pug, comparing his musicianship to the likes of Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.
But, the ego-stroking efforts of the evening—of which there were many—didn’t seem to phase Pug. Here and there the singer would look with incredulity in the direction of the whoopers and tongue-trillers who incessantly shouted “Pug Nation!,” almost in disbelief that the adoring calls were meant for him. But, it didn’t distract him. With the exception of the pause during “Unsophisticated Heart,” Pug barely skipped a note, and jauntily danced about Lincoln Hall’s confined stage as if the spontaneity was carefully planned and executed in likewise fashion.
Pug played on stage with his band with equals parts precision and naturalness, and it looked like he’d been performing for decades rather than the few years since dropping out of college and becoming a full-time musician.
As the set progressed, layers of music and its creators exited the stage until Pug stood alone with his acoustic sans drummer, bassist and guitarist. His band amped up quite a few of Pug’s numbers, but here came the special moments in the set wherein Pug, the preacher, held his church mice audience captive in his quieter songs. He dedicated “Hymn #101” to the late Levon Helm, a multi-instrumentalist best known for his time in The Band, whom Pug got to know late in life. Before performing the Tex Thomas cover “Deep Dark Wells,” Pug explained that he first heard this song while hanging out with his Austin, Texas landlord.
Before welcoming his band back to the stage, Pug asked that all lights in the house be turned off—even stage lights. There in the dark room, Pug played “Hymn #35” among a thick silence that was severed only by his voice and clean acoustic licks. Then, for fear of missing the next note, not a whoop was called, a tongue trilled nor a “Pug Nation” wildly yelled. To know he could mute a few hundred Chicagoans for five minutes and stab the air with his molasses-laden voice could have been his only lapse in humility that night.
See exclusive photos of Joe Pug at Lincoln Hall here.
Joe Pug at Lincoln Hall on May 19, 2012 set list
- “Nobody’s Man”
- “Silver Harps and Violins”
- “Unsophisticated Heart”
- “Hymn #76”
- “The Great Despiser”
- “In the Meantime”
- “I Do My Father’s Drugs”
- “A Thousand Men”
- “Hymn #101”
- “Deep Dark Wells”
- “Bury Me Far (From My Uniform)”
- “Hymn #35”
- “How Good You Are”
- “Lock the Door Christina”
- “Nation of Heat”
- “Call It What You Will”
- “Speak Plainly Diana”