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Joe Pug and Field Report @ Boot & Saddle.

May 1, 2015

JoePug (18 of 26)Text by Kyle Bagenstose. Images by Grace Dickinson.

If you were at the Joe Pug and Field Report show at the Boot & Saddle on Wednesday and suddenly became terrified with confusion that you had somehow been transported into some kindly Midwestern living room, breath easy. I did too.

Such is the vibe cultivated when folk artists like Field Report’s Christopher Porterfield banter back and forth with a room full of fans in between songs, and then captivate them with the simple strumming and plucking of an acoustic guitar and songs about picking up the pieces. Such is the feeling when a man like Joe Pug, who was a carpenter before he was ever a touring musician, spends minutes expressing his love for the city’s grittiness, before putting his heart on display in songs equal parts poignant and poetic.

Or more simply put, such is the experience felt during a folk show done right.

Porterfield, touring solo, first warmed up the crowd with a collection of songs that reeked of redemption: Those moments when the soul can saddle no more weight, and shucks it all off to pursue new beginnings. These stories of realizations in rest stops and lost loves let go were delivered powerfully through Porterfield’s mid-range vocals, the grittiness of which increased passionately during the peaks of the songs.

However, a downer Porterfield was not, joking back and forth with the crowd between songs and thanking them for the city’s gift wrapping of Michael Carter Williams to the artist’s hometown Milwaukee Bucks. But politeness quickly returned: Porterfield actually took requests from the audience and signed off the set saying, “I thank you for your time and attention.”

(Seriously, I’ve never been in a Midwestern living room but I imagine this is how they talk.)

The set of Joe Pug, a Maryland native by way of North Carolina-Chicago-Austin, held a similar dynamic, amplified to the third power. The highly-acclaimed lyricist took to the stage, acoustic guitar in hand, with a backing trio consisting of an upright bassist, electric guitarist and drummer. The foursome immediately launched into the set, rousing the crowd from its acoustic sleepiness with a three straight songs, culminating in the powerful and harmonica-heavy “Nation of Heat.”

Almost two years ago, Pug delivered a much more subdued performance at Johnny Brenda’s in which he barely spoke in between sets. This time around, he was damn near trying out stand-up material. In between songs, Pug, in order, joked about I-495 (turning it into an ad-lib during the opening chords of the next song), pretended to be a shill for the natural gas industry, claimed he had been signed as the official musician of Build-A-Bear and eventually, revealed what might actually be inspiring his new joviality – that he would be getting married this summer.

The humorous highs of the set were matched equally by the music. After the raucous opening, Pug’s fellow band members slowly left the stage between songs, one-by-one, until only Pug occupied the stage mid-set. It was then he delivered a ballad, “Pair of Shadows,” from his newly released EP Windfall, which he explained he had written for his bride-to-be. Pug looked near the point of tears by the song’s conclusion, drawing enthusiastic applause from a crowd that quickly had hushed.

From there the set regathered steam and the jokes returned, with Pug laughing that the small, intimate room did not allow for traditional encore festivities (“We’d just be standing out in the crowd with you, clapping and chanting encore until we felt like getting back on stage,” Pug quipped.) Instead, the band launched straight into the catchy “Speak Plainly Diana,” eliciting mid-song dancing from the packed house, followed by appreciative show-ending applause.

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