Nestled on the corner of Second Avenue and Van Buren in Phoenix in what looks like from the street, a simple bar/restaurant, back through the double doors inside, you enter the intimate lounge-like setting of the Crescent Ballroom. Sounds of clattering bottles, muted conversations and scattered laughter give off a positive vibe as the middle aged crowd begins to gather around the small stage awaiting the arrival of the Hawaiian born, Chicago based band known as Poi Dog Pondering.
Applause greets the eight piece band as they fill the stage and the crowd is quickly quieted as the group opens the show with the light ‘Sound of Water’. The drums keep a somber rhythmic beat, almost water-like as Susan Voelz’ violin stands out in this elegant opener. Frank Orrall, the ostentatious front man of Poi Dog makes you feel right at home with his forked beard, handlebar mustache and warming smile.
Frank’s guitar, mixed with Susan’s violin, bring you into the toe-tapping catchy beat of ‘Pulling Touch’. Susan along with Charlette Wortham’s backing vocals provides a great harmony with Frank through the chorus. The momentum of the show continues to build as Frank’s smooth vocals take us through a cover of Van Morrison’s ‘Sweet Thing’. Frank whose smile never leaves his face hands over guitar duties to Ted Cho, and the showman takes center stage to lead the audience through ‘Ta Bouche Est Tabou’. The violin accompanied on each side of the stage by Rick Gehrenbeck on keyboards and Dave Max Crawford on the organ. Charlette picks up the lead vocals and Dave picks up his trumpet which then lights up the crowd. Frank gets the audience jumping with the funky rhythm supplied by Bruce Hughes on bass and El John Nelson on drums in ‘That’s the Way Love Is’. We are then treated to a nice piano interlude backed by Dave on the organ.
On to a nice change of pace with the mellow ‘Collarbone’ which is short-lived as the funk is brought back by some great bass and organ interplay to open up ‘The Chain’. Frank takes one of his first of many climbs on top of the bass drum to really get the crowd pumped. The great vocals of ‘Big Constellation’ are backed by the wonderful melody of the violin. Each member of the band then gets a turn for short individual solos to end the crowd pleaser. The mid-point of the set mellows out to some fine smooth performances of ‘Postcard from a Dream’, ‘Be the One’, ‘Rusted Weather’ and ‘Perfect Music’.
The band is joined by their original drummer Sean Coffey on a cover of New Order’s ‘Love Vigilantes’. Dave continues to surprise with an endless supply of instruments as he pulls out an accordion to blend into this great melody with the violin and keyboard. The tone of the concert continues with the bands early nineties style back to back in ‘Living with the Dreaming Body’, ‘I’ve Got My Body’ and ‘Get Me On’. The entire crowd is very much into every note, every lyric in a sea of bobbing heads and grooving bodies. Frank once again gets the audience fired up and jumping through the faced paced ‘Jack Ass Ginger’. Frank forgets the words to the second verse and in a comical moment decides to perform pushups instead at center stage.
The pace of the show is toned down a bit again with ‘Everybody’s Trying’. The disco ball in the center of the room lights the crowd up in sparkles as Charlette and Frank trade off vocals in the grooving ‘Natural Thing’. The crowd is back to jumping once again with the synth heavy ‘God’s Gallipoli’ and the main set comes to a fantastic close with the crowd favorite ‘Complicated’.
After just a short break, the band returns for the encore with a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’. Back to the Poi Dog signature sound, the band in full swing, continued smiles from Frank we are lead through ‘From this Moment On’. With ‘Wood Guitar/Falling’ we get a taste of how well the two songs blend together and slowly end in a beautiful melody center stage with Frank on guitar and Susan on violin. The final song for the evening begins softly, and then continues to build for a crescendo finish with ‘Bury Me Deep’.
With the close settings of the Crescent Ballroom, the mixture of friendliness from the crowd and the warm smiles from each member of the band, you really feel like you have been invited over to Frank Orrall’s house to watch his little group play a private little show. An evening filled with two hours of great eclectic music to keep you entertained, Poi Dog Pondering is a band not to be missed when they come to town.
On behalf of Dead Billy’s Steaming Pile of Vinyl
My apologies to Dave for not getting this up a little sooner. Internet out here in no man's land still sucks. On a happier note, though, if you happen to live in the LA area (attention Aubrey) Poi Dog Pondering are finishing off their short tour in your neck of the woods this weekend. They'll be at The Writer's Room this Friday, Feb. 22nd. Details HERE.
Most of their albums (and the new DVD set) can be had through their store HERE.
Big thanks to the band for putting on a great show, and more specifically to Frank for OKing my camera. Also thanks to Dave for doing the writing. He knows how much I hate writing anything over a couple of paragraphs.