Joe Pug @ Brighton Music Hall 2.18.13

by Siena Faughnan (Criminal Justice), published February 21st 2013


It’s rare that a musician is just who you imagine them to be. After crying through an album, finding clarity in a song or taking a lyric as personal advice, a musician quickly becomes a close friend, a figure that knows you in your vulnerability and puts words to the emotions that you’ve never been able to articulate. While always a pleasure, seeing a beloved artist often threatens to tarnish this perception. Seeing Joe Pug at the Brighton Music Hall, however, only magnified it.

Joe Pug is a musician who seems comfortable in accepting the difficult ambiguities of life. He has gained a devoted fan base for his sympathetic drawl and clear-eyed honesty. Pug’s lyric’s combine the hard-nosed realism of a blue-collar rocker with the poeticism of folk roots. He connects to his listeners with a wisdom uncharacteristic of his age, admitting the harsh everyday realities but never condemning them. He tackles themes of loneliness, growing up and weathering the storm with an insight that is at once tired and hopeful. I came to Brighton Music Hall on President’s Day evening hoping that some of this insight would rub off on me.

Bhi Bhiman, a first-generation Sri Lankan immigrant raised with an all-American childhood in St. Louis, opened the show. Immediately setting the tone, he quieted the modest crowd with his Woody Guthrie-esque voice and songs of infidelity, the railroad and accepting the rough facts of life. He complimented Joe Pug perfectly and promises to be an up-and-coming figure in the folk scene.

Joe came on stage accompanied by stand-up bassist Matt Schuessler and guitarist Greg Tuohey and the crowd quickly quieted. The intimacy and directness of his set was well-suited to the dimly lit stage and modest size of the venue. Joe strummed through fan-favorites and played his entire Nation of Heat EP, which initially won him a following of enthusiasts after he mailed out thousands of free copies to anyone who asked. This dedication to the grassroots of the music industry and the personal connection with his followers was remarkably visible through the night. He bantered comfortably with the crowd and stayed long after the show ended to sign whatever was offered to him and shake each person’s hand. Joe Pug showed that he understood what folk music was all about: connecting to people.

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