Saturday, September 30, 2006

Poi Dog Pondering @ Metro (9/29/06)

Metro owner Joe Shanahan called the evening a “love fest” as he stood on stage beckoning Poi Dog Pondering to play one more encore, rallying the support of the audience still buzzing from the two hour plus show they just experienced.

For Shanahan to ignore the scheduled show time and demand an extra set, you know Poi Dog Pondering hit one of their grooves that take the band on another musical plane. In close to twenty years, Poi Dog Pondering has made it a habit of putting on performances that not only marvel audiences, but also find a way to go an extra mile to make something special. The band’s loyal fans made it a sold-out affair at Metro on Friday night, packing every inch of the club, leaving enough elbow room for dancing and drinks.

Poi Dog Pondering has been working on a follow-up to their 2003 album In Seed Comes Fruit and received some well-deserved recognition by being chosen to be one of the top acts to represent the Chicago music scene at this summer’s Lollapalooza fest in Grant Park.

In their first major local performance since then, singer Frank Orrall and company were all smiles as they each took to their stage positions. Guitarist Dag Juhlin strapped on his Fender Stratocaster and soon the trippy, water drop opening to “Pomegranate” cast out over the crowd. Orrall’s voice lurked throughout Metro while violinist Susan Voelz served as a beacon of light under the dim blue lighting, her violin strings sounding like some setting sun in the great distance.

The biggest surprise of the night was the number of new songs the band threw into the set, making up the bulk of the show. There was a sense of liberation to the band’s performance as the night went on. Juhlin would jack hammer his guitar into his amplifier during solos or stand at the edge of the stage, sending his right arm into Townshend-esque windmills. Bassist Ron Hall and current drummer Dan Leali locked gears and gave the band a pulse that intensified with every beat.

Songs like “Sticky” and “Butterfly” were direct in their song structures, and not as orchestrated as previous songs in the band’s backlog. “Candy (Rock Candy)” and “Supertarana” pumped with a brashness that hasn’t really been heard much from the band since perhaps the songs of Volo Volo (1992). “We’re going to start recording on Monday, so, we better get this shit right,” laughed Orrall as the band missed a cue to another new tune. Perhaps the two best Poi Dog Pondering songs in years followed another in the set. “Space Dust” must have come out of listening to plenty of Pink Floyd, a touch of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and post-Ok Computer era Radiohead because it was not a song the average fan would expect to come out of a band like Poi Dog Pondering, a band that developed its organic, folk pop, soul infused melodies from the ground up. If “Space Dust” took you past the rings of Saturn, then the song that followed—possibly called “Satellite”—took you outside the Milky Way.

The night proved to be a test, not just to those in the crowd who came to hear the usual show stoppers like “Complicated” (like the woman standing next to me who seemed would have rioted if the band didn’t play the song), but to the band. After recycling what has been the general set list for the past 3 years and maintaining a stable band lineup for even longer, it was time for the band members to challenge themselves again and really open a new door.

As Orrall, Juhlin, and Volez converged to centerstage to share vocals on the climactic “Bury Me Deep,” there was an energy on stage that hadn’t been felt before, something that felt unfamiliar, yet positive. It was that X-factor, the thing you can’t quite put your finger on but know is there right in your face. Maybe everyone who stayed until the final note faded got a friendly reminder that in this life anything is possible. For Poi Dog Pondering, it was a show that made a statement, that after twenty years the possibilities are still limitless.

All Photos By: Chris Castaneda

Friday, September 01, 2006

Extra! Extra!

The September issue of Chicago Innerview is now available online. This month also marks the 3rd anniversary of the magazine.

I have contributed a write-up on Elf Power and some words for the special wrap up of Lollapalooza 2006.

The latest issue of Chicago Innerview serves as a guide to the Hideout's 10th Anniversary Block Party, which will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of Touch and Go Records. Also check out the Hideout's website for the FINAL schedule of the three day party, along with ticket information.

Happy anniversary to the good people at the Hideout, Touch and Go Records, and Chicago Innerview.