Thursday, February 12, 2009

Live. Solo. Acoustic. With A Pug.

So the story goes that Rhett Miller was walking down State Street in Madison last Saturday, and he happened to stop in at Ragstock, a sort of retro-wear clothing store. There he saw the clerk wearing horned-rimmed glasses and a T-shirt that said, "Science Nerd," and that served as a reminder for him to play his song, "Four-Eyed Girl," at his show at The Majestic later that night.

Or at least...that's how he told it before he played the song. I have a feeling he'd have played it anyway, but it was a good story. And I do believe that he was wandering on State Street during the day before his show. Because...well, State is a street that lends itself to wandering.

His version that night of "Four-Eyed Girl" was a little messy and out of rhythm, and at times more spoken than sung...and it was fantastic.

After missing a couple of chances to see Rhett Miller in Wisconsin in the past few years, I didn't pass on this one, and I was glad I didn't. He played solo and acoustic, and while I haven't been in attendance at a great many acoustic shows, I've never seen anyone put so much effort and energy into playing an acoustic guitar and standing alone on stage, entertaining a crowd of several hundred people.

The rather eccentric lead singer of the Old 97s did very well for himself, by himself, up on stage. He's got this...presence...I guess, that makes you uncertain whether that's just him, or if he's a bit aided by chemical substances. Either way, he delivered a solid hour and a half of energy, playing a handful of songs from his first solo effort, The Instigator, which is the only album of his I owned prior to the show.

He also played songs from The Believer, which I now own, and need to listen to a few more times before I can say if it measures up to his first disc, and from his upcoming solo rele
ase, plus a few songs from The Old 97s as well. I'd tell you more about The Old 97s, but I don't have a clue who they are or what they're about. All I know is Rhett Miller is their frontman, and they're still together and still making music.

Part of the mystery of Rhett Miller and his music is that it's a bit difficult to classify. It's rock 'n' roll, no doubt. But there's something else to it. It's probably no coincidence that he went into Ragstock, because he and his sound have a retro vibe to them. And he can go from a hundred miles a minute to a weepy ballad with equal success.

The Old 97s I think are actually described by some as alt. country. Quite a category.

If you've never heard of Rhett Miller, I would suggest that downloading "Four-Eyed Girl" on iTunes would be 99 cents very well spent. And then go see a show.

— • — • —

I almost wanted to write this as the lead to this blog post, but after waiting for a Rhett Miller show for several years, I knew I had to put the headliner at the top.

But the opening act on Saturday was a welcome surprise...also an acoustic performer, a guy named Joe Pug from Chicago. A decent guitarist and an impressive lyricist, he held my attention during his set and got me to spend a few bucks on his EP, Nation of Heat, before I left the theater.

He's also got a full-length CD coming out in a couple of months, and I'm eager to hear more of his songwriting talents. I see myself actively searching out another of his shows sometim
e this year, because while much of the crowd at The Majestic was spending its time talking over Joe Pug as they waited for Rhett Miller, I spent that time, um...listening. To the songs. And the lyrics. (novel concept at a concert, I know.)

One reviewer writes a great line when he says, "I won't insult your intelligence by telling you who Joe Pug sounds like..." And if you click over to the link above, you'll get it right away.

But...give him a listen. He's in his early 20s, and he had a modesty and sincerity about him that might indicate that, if he catches a break or two along the way, more people might soon know the name Joe Pug.

And spend their time listening when he's up on stage.

"Two of us in a double feature,
I'm a rock and roller she's a science teacher.
I send her looks, they don't reach her.
She does not know I'm in love with her."
—Rhett Miller

1 comment:

  1. I think you've just confirmed that I have to question seeing a show in Madison that doesn't fall within the months of May through August. Freak'n kids...shut the hell up!!!

    Yeah, the sound is uncanny (except i can actually understand each word which you can't say for his sound-sake).

    I'm digging Hymn 101 quite a bit right now. And you're dead on when you say "impressive lyricist."

    (just saying "lyricist" in my head is reminding me of a Seinfeld episode where Elaine is trying to say Jackie Onassis-sis-sis-sis...)(sorry, got of track there...)

    There's something pure about an acoustic performer or performance. There's no hiding.

    I'd be interested in checking Mr. Pug out if he comes back to Wisconsin this year. And i'm going to have to insist that if you come round here in two weeks you bring his disc along so that i may pilfer it.