|Pokey LaFarge at the Echo|
Oct. 1, 2013 @ The Echo
Walking into a Pokey LaFarge show is like going to Dapper Day at Disneyland and joining a campfire gathering in 1800s Appalachia all at once. Bearded men wearing flannels and suspenders, and women in 1940s dresses and hairdos peppered the audience at the Echo as the Illinois native and his band kicked off the evening with their rendition of "St. Louis Blues" in honor of his adopted hometown in Missouri. Anyone who hadn't already broken into a sweat to the foot-stomping tunes of openers RT N' the 44s, including their ode to their L.A. neighborhood of "El Sereno" anchored by the Johnny Cash-reminiscent vocals of RT Valine, soon became drenched as bodies began shimmying to LaFarge's melodies.
With a blend of ragtime, country, swing, blues and jazz, LaFarge artfully crafts timeless songs that simultaneously make you feel as if you're in a glamorous scene from "Boardwalk Empire" (It's no wonder that he was asked to contribute to the show's soundtrack.) and simply stumbled into his living room to witness an impromptu jam session. This music is for everyone, and there is nothing forced or contrived about his stage presence or performance.
The set primarily consisted of songs from his latest album, a self-titled effort that released in June. Tracks like "Bowlegged Woman," "What the Rain Will Bring" and "Central Time" had the crowd swinging and singing along in no time flat. He treated the audience to Hoagy Carmichael and Lefty Frizzell covers and a song he composed for the 2011 documentary Brick By Chance and Fortune, as well as tunes like "Claude Jones" from his first release with the South City Three, 2010's Riverboat Soul.
Members from that trio, bassist Joey Glynn and percussionist Ryan Koenig, still shine as part of LaFarge's ensemble, particularly Koenig, whenever he picks up his washboard or harmonica. Guitarist Adam Hoskins electrifies songs with his seemingly effortless skill, although many were a bit disappointed when he didn't take up LaFarge's challenge to break into a punk rock song in the middle of their set. Clarinetist Chloe Feoranzo is a joy to watch as she and TJ Muller (on cornet and trombone) add Dixieland flair to the numbers.
The spotlight never fails to find their lead troubadour, though, as he breaks into a frenetic riff on his acoustic guitar or belts out a chorus. Just listening to his albums at home, it's sometimes hard to believe that LaFarge is only 30 years old. With his witty between-song banter and boundless energy, he really comes to life on stage. LaFarge is a masterful storyteller who pulls an audience into the palm of his hand after just a few bars of a song – the mark of a truly great bandleader of any genre or era.