Joe Pug / Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers: Bowery Ballroom 14 February 2014

Another Valentine’s Day and, once again, rtb is my date for the evening. This time at one of our favorite clubs, where Kenny the sound guy treats us like VIPs. We got a table at the Bowery Ballroom and even a few drinks in addition to a fun conversation with Kenny.

Our reason for being there was Joe Pug. We had seen him open there for Justin Townes Earle and have been following him ever since. He is a singer/songwriter in the Woody Guthrie tradition with songs that use politics and his life to tell the story. He started solo on the acoustic for one song and then Matt Schuster (upright bass) and Greg Tuohey (electric and acoustic guitar) joined him. Pug is great solo but Schuster and Tuohey add incredible beauty to the songs. Tom (don’t remember last name) joined them on the keyboards for one or two songs.

Pug played with the melodies of the more familiar songs a very little bit – he didn’t do a Dylan where the song is unrecognizable – the changes were subtle yet enough to make the songs new.

Pug played one cover – Harvey Thomas Young’s “Deep Dark Wells.” I never heard the original but Pug’s cover is gorgeous. Since it was short set there wasn’t a lot of talking but he did tell a story of his father driving from DC to Charlottesville in a snowstorm to see Pug perform and his father’s car got stuck and he had to hitchhike with Pasha, the nicest Iranian guy he ever met.

We did hear “Hymn #101” “I Do My Father’s Drugs” “Nation of Heat” “The Great Despiser” among other favorites.

The first thing that both of us noticed was Pug’s hair. It was longer and very curly. There was something off about the haircut.



Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers were new to me. rtb said she’d checked them out on YouTube and they looked like fun and Kenny described them the same way. At first sound they leaned towards country but it’s mostly a mix of pop and folk. Bluhm has a tremendously powerful voice – something I always admire – and if she didn’t have the band behind her she could have done the entire show without a mic.

Bluhm was another one that you notice the hair first; she had Farrah Fawcett hair. She was also wearing a red peasant blouse and designer jeans with boots – the look was so 70s that I was having flashbacks. I was also sure that there was something romantic going on between Bluhm and one of The Gramblers even though they never touched. Later when they did a duet she mentioned how they rarely get to have dinner dates together, so I discovered I was correct. Tim Bluhm plays keyboards, organ, guitar, and sings back-up, Deren Ney plays lead guitar, Steve Adams plays bass, Dave Mulligan is on rhythm guitar, and Mike Curry plays drums.

The band is fun. They play originals and covers. The covers that night were “Hey! Baby,” where the audience surprised me, and I think maybe the band, by singing the “hu ha,” and “Somebody to Love,” which was a perfect fit for Bluhm. Standouts for me on the originals were “Squeaky Wheel” “Little Too Late” and “Kill You to Call.”





By Carene Lydia Lopez