Star rating – 9/10
If, like me, you remember fondly when the gigs you went to were small and sweaty, then rest assured that there is no need to simply reminisce. Manchester’s Castle Hotel offers those longed for intimate exclusive experiences on a regular basis – great gigs just as they should be. And last night’s offering from American country troubadour Joe Pug was something a little bit special.
His lyrics pack a real punch, and his very affable and charming demeanour belie an intensity and anger reminiscent of a young Bob Dylan. His guitar and his mouth organ are his weapons, like a raging Woody Guthrie or Bruce Springsteen. Defiantly on the side of the little people, he quit drama school and went to earning his living as a carpenter before his musical career took off. He has famously given away his music for free to fans in return for them spreading the word around about his music. And he is still an artist who likes to treat his audiences with respect.
Pug is one of those songwriters who leaves a piece of himself on every song – honestly sharing his political and romantic passions alike. He treated the small but very appreciative crowd to gems like Speak Plainly Diana, and the desperate heartbreak tune Call It What You Will, both from the acclaimed Nation of Heat EP. He raged fabulously about ‘a congress of jackals will put a tax on my smile’ in Nobody’s Man. My personal stand out favourite of the night was How Good You Are from the online album Messenger. It’s a great example of how a good track can sound truly great live.
He finished off with a last rousing number Hymn#101, testing the timbers of his heart, he is brave, insistent, confrontational, searching for answers, and putting himself out there with all his soul. By his own admission Joe Pug says exactly what he means and is stubborn as a butcher. Watch out world is all I can say. He sings of redemption and love, of missed chances and weary lives. A remarkable, warm and talented performer, do yourself a favour and don’t miss him when he next graces these shores with his outstanding talent. And thanks to Hey Manchester! for putting on another tremendous gig. May sweaty nights reign...