Seeing a great rock band play an intimate acoustic set is a musical experience not to be missed. The sonic conditions are just right for appreciating the give and take among skilled instrumentalists. Every nuance of song harmonies is on full display.
That makes next Thursday's Poi Dog Pondering show at the High Noon Saloon an easy choice for this week's highlight. The veteran Chicago ensemble, which typically performs with at least a dozen players, will be stripped down to five original members: Frank Orrall, Susan Voelz, Ted Cho, Dave Max Crawford and Dag Juhlin.
Somehow, Madison landed one of only four national appearances the acoustic quintet has planned in advance of a CD release later this year.
It's been almost two decades since Poi Dog Pondering migrated from Hawaii to Austin and got signed to Columbia Records. Their lush, evolving sound has incorporated everything from soul to world, electronica to orchestral rock.
House music became a major influence on their songs in the early '90s, when the band relocated to Chicago and frontman Orrall started spinning as a DJ. He's still involved in electronic music and spins Friday nights at a Chicago wine bar called Juicy's.
My own appreciation of PDP began in 1995, when I stumbled across Pomegranate at B-Side Records. A rant by Orrall on the back of the CD drew me in.
He talked about a painting - "The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden" - and the unusual sense of solace he found in Adam and Eve's banishment.
"Pain, exploration of self, strife and mortality give this life a poignancy, dimension and depth that I don't feel from any notion of Eden," wrote Orrall.
How could I resist?
Soon after, I saw Poi Dog Pondering at the Rathskeller, spread out in a blaze of Hawaiian-shirt glory across a crowded stage. Their gig was a joyous celebration of life, and what I mostly remember from that beer-tinged evening is an incredible cover of the Grass Roots' "Temptation Eyes."
As you might expect, Orrall is still following his muse. His website says he wants to be a chef now. He invites browsers to let him make dinner for them.
Fortunately, Orrall is still inspired by Poi Dog Pondering, and he invites you to let him make music for you next Thursday night.