This guest blog post is by Janet Jay.
It was a late show, but October 4th saw the Continental Club packed to the rafters to see Ben Kweller and Joe Pug perform. The two artists share many similarities: both live in Austin, both are multi-instrumentalists, both draw from blues and folk in their music.
It makes sense that the place would be packed. These are local boys, and many of those in attendance grew up listening to Ben Kweller. And really, Kweller grew into adulthood right along with his fans. While the Greenville native saw success when he was in his early teens, Kweller’s solo career began with the hit album Sha Sha at age 19…though he looked about 12. (Sorry, Ben.) Now at 30, he’s rocking a half-shorn head and seemed thrilled to be playing for so many friends and longtime fans at the Continental Club.
It was clear that he felt at home on stage, at home in Austin, close to all the friends, fans and acquaintances he’d collected during his years of touring and releasing consistently solid records. Despite the setlist at his feet, he took request after request from the crowd. He even played a somewhat silly song (“BK Baby”) off of an obscure early EP at the request of yours truly! Even though nobody else seemed to recognize the song, the grin on his face was contagious. He played the hits, of course, but seemed to be having so much fun that he didn’t mind delving into his back catalog if someone knew enough to ask.
It was gratifying to see how many people knew every word to some of his decade-old songs. It was a grand singalong, led by Kweller from his perch at his keyboard.
After Ben Kweller finished playing, the massive crowd dispersed, leaving only a couple dozen fans for the next set. And that was truly a shame: Joe Pug is one of the most underrated musicians releasing music today.
Pug’s music is a mishmash of folky, bluesy, layered indie rock. His lyrics are complex and touching enough that they could stand on their own as poetry. One of the remaining audience members remarked that Ben Kweller makes music for high school that’s great to sing along to, but “Joe Pug’s music and lyrics are more complex and emotional, more grownup.” Whether that’s true or not, those that skipped out after BK missed something special.
Pug’s music (and harmonica) reminds one a little bit of Dylan, if Dylan could actually sing and was absolutely adorable. Listening to his music (new fans, start with the Nation of Heat EP or his first full-length, Messenger), you hear a world-weary bard singing of the lessons of a life lived. Pug may be all those things, but he’s somehow achieved that wisdom before growing old. In fact, it’s intentionally timeless music. That guitar and harmonica sounded as though they might be two years old or twenty, and his voice gave few clues as to age or era.
During the set change, his fans discussed his uncanny ability to write songs that set up shop in your mind, touching a chord somewhere deep and prompting you to play it over and over. And that’s the crowd that stayed: the real fans, willing to wait until 1 AM on a work night, just to sing along with Pug on “Speak Plainly Diana.”
Janet Jay is a freelance journalist, writer and editor living in South Austin. Follow her on Twitter and check out her under-construction website for a detailed bio and many more examples of her work.
Photo of Continental Club sign via Flickr CC, courtesy of Greg Peverill-Conti.