Saturday, August 29, 2015

Concert Review: Pugwash brings its masterful melodic rock to Molly Malone's

Lead guitarist Tosh Flood, left, and singer-guitarist Thomas
Walsh at Molly Malone's on Aug. 28, 2015. Photo: Robert Kinsler
Ever since hearing Pugwash for the first time earlier this year (thanks to the release of the amazing 2014 Omnivore Recordings collection A Rose In a Garden of Weeds), I had hoped I might get to see the Dublin-based quartet perform live. Fortunately I didn't have to wait long; the band is in the midst of a U.S. tour and I was able to get to Los Angeles on Friday night (Aug. 28, 2015) to catch the Irishmen deliver an outstanding 100-minute set of masterful rock.

Touring in support of the band's new studio album Play This Intimately (as if among friends) (set for release on Friday, Sept. 4), lead singer-songwriter/rhythm guitarist Thomas Walsh, lead guitarist Tosh Flood, bassist-singer Shaun McGee and drummer Joe Fitzgerald brought a loose pub-styled approach in terms of their casual stage banter and frequent musical partial song bits offered up (Tom Petty's "Runnin' Down A Dream," Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds," ABBA's "Fernando" among them) and faithful full-length covers (The Tokens' "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was pure joy), but when they performed their stunning original masterworks it was all business and magic on steroids. 

Opening with the first track off their new album, the driving "Kicking And Screaming," Pugwash immediately showcased their ability to weave nuanced musicianship, smart harmonies and top-tier arrangements in the presentation of songs that are never less than perfect. "Keep Movin' On" (with its mix of folk and power-pop) and ELO-styled "Hung Myself Out To Dry" (the latter featuring a phenomenal guitar solo from Flood) and the wistful ballad "Finer Things In Life" were highlights of the first part of the set. "Oh Happy Days," a sparse and artful track on Play This Intimately (as if among friends) included a story of how the band got to get legendary Kinks frontman Ray Davies to sing backing vocals on the track.

Thomas Walsh at Molly Malone's on Aug. 28, 2015.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
Those assuming the band's songbook is restricted to melodic rock and sweet harmony-filled '60s-minded power-pop were likely shocked (and wonderfully surprised) in the potent rocker "Anyone Who Asks" (which recalls the early '90s spirit and approach of Radiohead). The song built fire as it moved along, with the guitars, rhythm section and Walsh's wonderful voice in creative sync as the song's dynamic firepower was unleashed.

Several of the troupe's strongest songs came late. The shimmering study of romantic dissolution "Fall Down," sweeping "Fool I Had Become" (a gem on the new album) and joyful harmonies-filled "It's Nice To Be Nice" assured this night was a memorable one from start to finish.

Opening the night was Los Angeles' own Cherry Bluestorms, a talented quartet that delivered 40 minutes of inspired '60s-styled power-pop and psychedelic-styled rock informed by the sonics of The Beatles, Zombies and other greats from the era. 

Review by Robert Kinsler

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