POI DOG PONDERING had just
finished its set Wednesday at Mississippi Nights. The musicians had
delivered what they always deliver, an invigorating and uplifting dose of
infectiously danceable, bubbling music. The crowd, as is normal, demanded an
encore. One hour later, the show was finally over.
This was clearly not a band too interested in
going home. It played four songs from its standard repertoire, left the
stage, and the crowd kept demanding more. This time, when it came back, the
band was in the mood to play around a bit.
Musicians (including members of the road
crew) wandered on and off stage, depending on whether or not they knew the
song being performed. They played at least one song so new that even Frank
Orrall, who wrote it, forgot the chord changes during the bridge; he dealt
with it like a pro, stopping in the middle, apologizing and starting that
part over again.
Cover material was pulled from all sorts of
sources. Drummer Daren Hess came up front to sing an old Ronnie Lane song.
Orrall offered up a medley of disco material, which included one song I
recognized but couldn't quite place (though, if pressed, I'd guess it
originally was by David Bowie) and the classic "Rock Your Boat" by
George McCrae. Orrall also sang "Something About What Happens When We
Talk" from the latest Lucinda Williams album.
The show concluded with an incendiary
rendition of Elvis Presley's "Burning Love," sung by one of the
group's roadies, who sounds more like Elvis than just about anybody I've
heard. While it was fully aware of the camp value in covering Elvis at all,
Poi Dog Pondering never lost sight of the fact that the song is one of the
most powerful grooves in rock 'n' roll history.
During the main body of the show, Poi Dog
Pondering played most of the same material it did when it last visited in
the spring, which is to say most of the songs from its latest album, "Volo
Volo." The musicians were saddled with a sound system that
overemphasized the treble of snare drum, high-hat and acoustic guitar, as
well as the rich mid-range tones of Susan Voelz's violin, at the expense of
keyboards and especially electric guitars.
This hurt the band occasionally, before
things were straightened out and the full crunch of the band's sound could
be brought to bear on the sporadic rockers in their set. (It threw in a
verse of the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" and proved that it could
whip up a frenzy on a heavy metal classic with the best of them.)
This band has assimilated a wide range of
musical influences, from Stax-Volt soul to African pop to country folk to
hard-edged rock. As this was the fifth time I've seen the group play live,
I've come to realize that the formal qualities of these influences lie in
the individual playing of each member. Hess is capable of impeccably
reproducing grooves of any number of classic rock 'n' roll styles; Voelz
takes her chops from the intersection of folk and romantic classical
material; guitarist Adam Sultan can slip through Steve Cropper-like
arpeggios and then switch gears to play a bone-crunching hard rock riff.
But, these influences coalesce into one
irreducible Poi Dog Pondering sound, which kept virtually everyone in the
club at least swaying and usually dancing wildly throughout the delightful