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Joe Pug and Hezekiah Jones @ Johnny Brenda’s.

May 3, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAText and images by Kyle Bagenstose.

You know those cartoons where the music notes kind of drift off into the air, from whatever instrument the character is strumming or blowing into, before slowly disappearing toward the edge of the screen?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat’s folk artist Joe Pug on stage, whose simple guitar strumming backs stop-and-go lyrics. He sings out a line, recoils, and watches the notes drift away, letting the words sink in, and then comes back to the microphone with increasing fervor as his songs build.

A room full of people witnessed exactly that at Johnny Brenda’s on Wednesday night, as the Chicago-based singer-songwriter brought an upright bassist and electric guitarist on stage with him.

It was a low-key kind of show, the kind where couples swayed gently to the rhythm and the loners listened to Pug’s poignant words thoughtfully.

Lyrically, Pug hovers between the simple (“Speak plainly to me Diana…I don’t mind riding around,” he repeats over and over in “Speak Plainly, Diana“) and the critical (“I seen skeleton mothers and hungry folks… across the street from the kitchens that cookin’ for most” he sings in “Nation of Heat“).

But whatever the words, the former carpenter appears genuine and unassuming on stage: he’s into the music and only says a few soft-spoken words between songs.

Pug’s line of the night did come between songs, when he explained that his band was trying to arrive in Philadelphia early to let a few underage fans listen to their soundcheck, but that the plan blew up when they were delayed.

“But hey, I think that’s a good lesson for them,” Pug said. “Life’s a bitch.”

The audience was also treated to a fantastic opener in local-favorite Hezekiah Jones (Raphael Cutrufello), who took to the stage with the simplest ensemble his up-to-12-man-band appears with: a trio of Hezekiah, upright bassist Pepe Jones (Phil D’Agostino) and Pocono Jones (Brad Hinton) on lap steel.

The band seemed to know what audience they were playing for, strumming their way through a low-key set that had the crowd tapping along. They played a few numbers that they introduced as new material and it might have just been the best stuff they played all night, which bodes well for Hezekiah fans.

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