Joe Pug concert review – Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom – 05.06.15
After playing an impressive set opening for Devil Makes Three at House of Blues earlier this year, singer/songwriter Joe Pug returned to Cleveland, this time to headline his own gig at the Beachland Ballroom. Pug has kept busy since his show last January, releasing his third studio album, ‘Windfall’ earlier this year.
Accompanied by bassist Matt Schuessler, guitarist Greg Tuohey, and drummer Mark Stepro, Pug opened the show with “Burn and Shine.” The stage was set for his illustrative lyrics and deeply infectious vocals.
Seamlessly transitioning between albums, Pug performed the powerful crowd favorites from his first EP ‘Nation of Heat,’ “I Do My Father’s Drugs,” “Hymn #101,“Hymn #35,” as well as songs with similar emotional intensity such as “How Good You Are” from his 2010 album ‘Messenger’ and “A Gentle Few” from 2012 album ‘The Great Despiser.’
With songs charged with subject matter universal and identifiable, the crowd was enamored by the authenticity of the lyrics and entranced by the irreplaceable folk sound of the band. Pug’s stage presence was personable, passionate, and humorous with his tongue in cheek remarks about the monetary struggles of musicians, claiming to have been chosen as the musical backing for the new Purina dog food campaign. He taunted guitarist Greg Tuohey to break hearts with his solo in “Call It What You Will” and later described his try at writing love songs with “A Pair of Shadows” only to receive somewhat unfavorable results from his fiancé.
During an interview CleveRock conducted with Pug on his last visit to Cleveland, he described the experiences leading up to ‘Windfall’ as being part of an introspective journey of self growth and personal evolution. Noting that the Windfall he refers to with the album title is not a monetary or material gain but rather the wisdom that comes with reflection and the strong desire to be true to oneself. Thanks to a break from touring and an engagement to fellow musician Jamie Zanelotti of The Hems, Pug came back to music with stories that had to be told and songs that had to be sung. One can hear these sentiments and more in the lyrics, “all I have I would happily give to stand there with you now, to stand there with you ‘ever” on the song “Bright Beginnings.”
Pug is a singer, songwriter and yet most of all, he is a story teller, eloquently crafting portraits of strife, struggle, heartache, love, and insecurity. Behind a beaming smile, he pulled on the heart strings of the crowd, leaving them to hang on every one of his lines. For an encore, the band returned to the stage one last time to perform “Stay and Dance” to a crowd that wanted to do just that.