No amount of words or pictures can really do a Poi Dog Pondering show justice. Describing the different musical genres that make up Poi music alone would take the better part of a tome of encyclopedic size, and that doesn’t even begin to address the stage show. The only hope then is that will serve as a musical mile marker that will either allow you to step back a few days in time to relive the show you were just at, or serve as a reason to do whatever it takes to make sure you’re at the next Poi Dog Pondering show.
Stereotypically, the word show is used to describe musical performances as a whole, but that’s not true. Those are really concerts. Poi is a show. There are an orchestral amount of people with a similarly large amount of instruments. There are dancers, from the band itself and also the House-O-Matics break dancing troupe. There’s slap bass and guitars played with violin bows. There are shakers and cowbells, twelve string guitars and bright red pants. There are projected movies and giant color-changing Japanese lanterns. In short, it’s sensory overload.
As Frank Orrall (the man that is the heart of Poi and also the master of ceremonies) leads the musical amalgamation that is Poi – and the audience – through the symphonic processional, it becomes increasingly difficult to digest it all. We’re trying to work it on out. “Everyone’s trying to work it on out.” But no one really seems capable of doing anything more than just letting the music wash over them. Gyrating or standing at attention, dancing epileptically or singing along, there wasn’t anything but smiles for miles in the audience.
The carefully curated preparation of specific elements of the songs in the setlist (they have A LOT to choose from after all) is starkly juxtaposed to the live show itself. For all their best intentions, nothing ever goes perfectly as planned – but this doesn’t bother Poi. Frank makes the entire band start a song over because he fucked up the opening. He does his ten push-up penance on stage and the show goes on. Gliding seamlessly from epic big band ballad to house inspired dance party, the flow of the show just keeps building upon itself as it crescendos toward an end that no one in the audience is ready for.
But Poi isn’t a band to just go out with a bang, the entire performance is filled with moments that easily eclipse other band’s supposedly excellent encores. Moments like seamlessly (on more than one occasion) integrating House-O-Matic break dancers mid song. Susan playing Dag’s guitar with her violin bow. Frank playing a triple cowbell on the far side of the drum kit. And then, as a special treat, Frank jumped on the drum kit as the ancillary became the collective frontman for the group. In case you haven’t lost track of Frank yet, don’t worry, you will. Now he’s running laps around the entire stage. After a Poi show, you will never be able to look at another band’s encore the same – let alone the performance itself.
At the end of the day, Poi has a something for everyone. If you don’t get caught up in the big band sound (which you will), there’s the house aspect. The emotional undertones that connect with everyone in the audience individually. Using the word love is probably cliché, but that’s there too. It’s fucking transcendental. It’s orchestrated chaos. Honestly, it’s just plain fun.