If my sweet canine niece Olivia had just rolled in the mud, I might employ the use of the name of the alt-pop band I’m about to tell you about. They’re called Pugwash and although the name might make the pooch recoil, it should get you excited because they’re sensational.
Pugwash is lead singer and rhythm guitarist Thomas Walsh, leading guitarist and backing vocalist Tosh Flood, bass guitarist and backing vocalist Shawn McGee, and drummer Joey Fitzgerald. They are an Irish pop band that formed in 1999, and they’ve released five studio albums and two compilations. Last month saw the release of “A Rose In A Garden Of Weeds: A Preamble Through the History of Pugwash,” and it’s a good starting point for your Pugwash schooling.
First, the name. I asked Fitzgerald where on earth it came from. Apparently, singer Walsh looks a bit like the main character of a British children’s TV show the band watched as kids called “Captain Pugwash.” If I’m Walsh, I’m clearly a good sport, because I don’t really see the resemblance. Oh wait…maybe I do.
As for the music, I started with the song “Take Me Away,” an upbeat chipper tune about a chap who is trying to climb out of a dark place: “Sucker punch me, down I go. Count to ten is oh so slow and I stumble to my knees.”
From there, it was “Monorail,” a musical ray of jangly sunshine dipped in 60s psychedelic and cooked to perfection. “Keep Movin’ On,” rife with organ riffs also has a throwback vibe that would fit in nicely on the California coast circa 1965. “Finer Things in Life” is a slow, acoustic-into-electric love song sung by a guy whose heart has been trampled on but good: “You build me up and you break me down, I can’t get enough of your love.” He’s leaving and I doubt he’s coming back. Can’t say I blame him.
“Shine On Norvell Jefferson” is a dreamy ’60s sounding gem which made me wonder about Pugwash’s influences. Turns out they include The Kinks, Electric Light Orchestra, The Beach Boys and XTC. The “Rose” album actually features guest appearances from XTC’s Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory.
And now for a fun fact: On their Facebook page, Pugwash lists band interests as “strangling spice burgers” and “juggling Weetabix.” Clearly they’re odd ducks — my favorite kind of people.
Their show at Empire marks the bands first tour of the United States. Fitzgerald told me that they’ve been to America on vacation but never to perform.
“It really is the most important thing for us right now to tour the States,” he said. “We’ve always wanted to make it in the States because we feel our music would me more accepted there.” I say let’s show them they made the right decision by hopping on a plane and coming here by going to this show. As an added bonus, Portlander Spencer Albee will open the show, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say we can expect to hear some new tunes from the album he’s dropping next month. The show gets off to a late start, so nap accordingly and be ready to fall madly in love with four Irish gents who can’t wait to play for us.
PUGWASH with Spencer Albee. 9:30 p.m. Thursday. Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland. $7, 21-plus, portlandempire.com
In-store appearance on Friday at 6:30 p.m. Bull Moose Music, 151 Middle St., Portland.