If you’ve ever wondered how many musicians can fit onto the stage at the intimate confines of City Winery, Poi Dog Pondering are offering five chances to find out next week. The local heroes are a sprawling band with more than a dozen members. The group played four-night stands during December of 2013 and 2015, but positive word of mouth and two years of anticipation have necessitated an additional night for this year’s crowded festivities.
The band’s multicultural lineup has shifted during its 33-year journey, but Frank Orrall has always found himself surrounded by kindred musical spirits and wide-ranging talent. Longtime collaborators include violinist Susan Voelz and multi-instrumentalist Dave Max Crawford, whose tenure with Orrall dates to the late ‘80s in Austin, Texas. Guitarist Dag Juhlin and reeds player Paul Mertens joined soon after the group’s 1992 relocation to Chicago. Returning veteran and guitarist Ted Cho was involved during the band’s earliest days in Hawaii.
The group was 15 members strong when it made 2015’s “Everybody’s Got a Star.” The album’s so-called “acous-tronic” sound was a genre-shifting and joyful blend of orchestral, rock and dance music styles. Voelz’s strings join live brass, club-friendly grooves, soulful vocals and shimmering electronic textures on tracks like the trippy “Equatorial,” blissful “The Turning,” and sultry “Burnin’ Higher.”
Although Poi Dog Pondering is currently preparing its ninth studio album for summer 2018, its next release will be a deck-clearing effort. “Sweeping up the Cutting Room’s Dance Floor” is a collection of worthy, body-moving outtakes and remixes from previous sessions. The urgent shimmy and expansive groove of “Everybody’s Got a Star” track “All Saints Ascension” are recast in an arrangement that accentuates the song’s jazz, soul and trip-hop foundation. Thematically, the track finds Orrall and his bandmates examining their lives, seeking communal peace and the righteous path. “I’d put my foot down only if I was certain where it’d land,” sings Orrall. Clearly, it’ll land repeatedly and firmly upon the dance floor.
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.