Sunday night at Mango's, we finally got a live taste of a spry and springy Joe Pug and got to mellow the hell out with Portland, Oregon's Horse Feathers (above). It was a decent way to send us off to our SXSW rondezvous with hipsters and faux-smiling carpetbaggers in Austin later this week. Horse Feathers is an amazingly quiet group made up of a cellist, violinist, a multi-instrumentalist and lead singer Justin Ringle on acoustic guitar. Walking into Mango's was like walking into a Soma tab, and Ringle's voice barely registered over a whisper, sounding like Ray LaMontagne after a can of Drank. The four-piece captivated the small Sunday night crowd for about an hour of quiet indie bluegrass, with the venue becoming hauntingly echoey at times, and previewed some songs from their full-length due April 20 on Kill Rock Stars.
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Meanwhile, solo closer Joe Pug brought the acoustic-guitar and harmonica rawkus around 11 p.m., pulling out songs from his new album Messenger and engaging the crowd for a full hour. We hadn't seen someone so happy to be in front of a Sunday-night throng in quite some time. "Unsophisticated Heart" was brutally open and honest, and "I Do My Father's Drugs," from 2008's Nation of Heat EP, is the kind of weighty stuff that made people like Steve Earle sit up and notice.
Horse Feathers and Pug will both be playing innumerable day parties and such during SXSW, if you are inclined to make the trip. Both are definitely worth the gas money.