In a sold out Brighton Music Hall on a Tuesday night, David Wax Museum opened up for the latest flame in the Americana folks scene: Joe Pug.
David Wax Museum is comprised -- most concretely -- of David Wax and Suz Slezak and was formed five years ago in Boston. Both are southern transplants -- Columbia, Missouri and Charlottesville, Virginia respectively -- who somehow crawled their way over the Mason-Dixon line and brought with them a sense of bellum-era Americana and a bag of Mexicana. While Suz holds down the fort with her fiddle in the folk section of the band’s eclectic yet holistic stylings, David Wax provides a sense of worldliness by inducing an almost decadent Mexican-folk flavor into the grand scheme of things.
Overall, David Wax Museum sounds like a pair of Civil War ex-patriots went to Mexico, came back and joined a turn-of-the-century medicine show.
Yet, the group somehow not only manages to make it work, but make it work quite well.
Much of this comes from their incredible stage presence. If there was ever a band -- or billing -- that was absolutely perfect for the venerable and historic radio show A Prairie Home Companion, it was David Wax Museum and Joe Pug. Wax’s and Slezak’s crowd work was on point and subliminally purposeful -- a story here, a story there, Slezak chimes in with this, Wax finishes with that and they’re on to another song.
While the duo charmed the crowd between songs, David Wax was able to provide an almost manic energy on stage, somewhere in between an Avett Brother and John McCauley of Deer Tick. Next to him is the more composed Suz Slezak, who glimmered in a teal dress with a broad golden belt.
Although Slezak may have seemed confident and composed on stage, it was Joe Pug who appeared the most at home while being the farthest away. The Austin-based singer-songwriter who recently released a new album entitled The Great Despiser is a charming and disarming figure while under the bright lights.
Pug has a soft face and a softer voice with a slight Jimmy Stewart-esque muddling of his esses when he speaks.
His songs move with the bumpy cadence of Dylan and Guthrie while his lyrics contain the world of winners, losers, sinners, saints, mythology and one-liners similar to Springsteen.
Being accompanied by a full band brought on a swath of Wallflowers flavor ala Bringing Down the Horse, whom he used for the meaty parts of his performance.
His highlights, though, were mostly of he and his guitar.
For “Hymn #35,” Pug quieted four very vocal audience members in the back and killed the stage lights, effectively pointing the audience’s attention at the music rather than the handsome face and bright eyes that smiles at every reaction the audience gives. “I Do My Father’s Drugs” was accompanied by an eerie slide lead on a Fender Jaguar and “Hymn 101″ was justifiably performed with a full band and dedicated to the late Levon Helm.
The defining factor of seeing Joe Pug live isn’t his affable stage presence, nor his soothing voice, or the fact that he not only appears grateful for any applause he can muster, but direction that comes from how he knows exactly what kind of show he’s bringing to the table.
Pug understands that he’s a cerebral folk act that requires an attentive audience in a venue where there is nothing to distract the audience from the songs- whether it be rowdy audience members or stage lights too bright.