Poi Dog Pondering: A 3-Hour Dog Show – That’s Entertainment!

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
February 21, 1994

Divided into two sets, spanning more than 26 songs and running three hours long, Poi Dog Pondering’s spectacular concert Friday night at the Vic was the creative realization of ambitious leader-singer Frank Orrall.

In the second of four sold-out shows – three evenings at the Vic followed by a gig Sunday at Lounge Ax – Poi Dog Pondering put on an event that transcended the boundaries of a typical rock ‘n’ roll concert.  Other groups have incorporated theater and dance into their acts, but few succeeded to intrigue and entertain as well as Poi Dog did.

The first song “Falling” started off not with Orrall, but with Abra Moore, a lovely-voiced singer who mesmerized with her delicate phrasing and vocal fluctuations.

Though Poi Dog obviously is Orrall’s forum, he can never be accused of being a stage hog.  Though the band’s original lineup counts just three (Orrall, violinist Susan Voelz and multi-instrumentalist Dave Crawford), the onstage coterie consisted of dozens more, and most of them got the chance to shine.

In addition to the revamped 10-member Poi (which included Slugs guitarist Dag Juhlin, saxophonist Brigid Murphy, Mekons drummer Steven Goudling and bassist Tom Ray), there was a string quartet, 10-member hip-hop dance troupe House-o-Matic, a horn section and a “long-stringed instrument” played by Ellen Fullman.  (No kidding. That’s what she calls it.)

Performing on a catwalk at the back of the stage, Fullman deftly played the dozens of long strings that were attached to a 60-foot frame.  On “Thawing Spring,” the result was powerful, sounding not unlike a louder cousin of the notes Voelz created on her violin.

Among this talent, the charismatic Orrall held his own, whether dancing with wild abandon or mocking stardom during “U Li La Lu.”

Wearing a glitzy silver lame suit that would have induced drools from both Bono and Chris Isaak, Orrall camped it up big time.

The inclusion of the young dance troupe House-o-Matic wasn’t as strange in reality as it seemed in theory.

Poi Dog’s songs cover the musical gamut, from soulful ballads to jazzy rock.  And a good chunk of its repertoire is best heard on the dance floor.

House-o-Matic gave a couple of interpretations of what fans could do to a Poi Dog Pondering song, if they were limber enough to follow along.

Chicago is a strong and loyal market for Poi Dog Pondering. Originally from Hawaii, the group relocated to Austin, Texas, before Orrall moved to Chicago in 1992.

Orrall turned rumor into reality when he disbanded the group and quietly played solo gigs for a year or so before reforming Poi Dog.

But it is with Poi Dog Pondering that Orrall excels, reshaping old songs and molding new songs into favorites.

Early in the evening, he sang, “It’s complicated . . . It’s all  right.” The complicated performance the group performed proved to be more than all right.   As stated earlier, it was spectacular.

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