Okay, I have to say, when it comes to concerts I typically have pretty good taste. The selection process when deciding whether to take the plunge and splurge on a night out is a bit involved. The group must have a large body of work (often consisting of multiple albums) that I really enjoy listening to. Preferably at some point I compulsively listened to them and know a good number of their songs by heart. The shows are also preferably under 60 bucks since I can’t usually afford more. The ideal venues are tiny clubs where it’s easier to get to know the staff and the musicians are more accessible. Maybe the stage is so close to the ground that physical contact between the musicians and the front row is inevitable. Then, the musicians are also hopefully seemingly nice and interesting people—because no one wants to create the perfect scene for a musician meet-up to find that they’re all actually pretentious assholes (biggest music buzz kill ever). Preferably there’s a good crowd too. And at least a portion of the venue is standing room.
So when I had the chance to go see Pokey Lafarge and his band, I was excited. Under 60 euros? Check. Tiny club? So tiny, in fact, that there’s only one exit. Close proximity between musicians and spectators? I honestly thought Pokey was going to punch me in the face a few times, AND we were all standing. Double check. As for friendly musicians? They were the loveliest, hanging out graciously with everyone afterwards and generous with their time and stories from the road.
It was, in short, brilliant. I’ve been a long time fan of Pokey Lafarge’s nostalgic tunes but seeing him in person was a particular treat. Currently on tour for his latest album, which was produced by the bassist and retro music enthusiast extraordinaire, Jimmy Sutton, Lafarge introduced the room to a phenomenal selection of tracks of his new album sprinkled with old favorites. His band was brilliant and complete with a horn section which almost blew the roof off of the miniscule Maroquinerie. The saxophonist/clarinetist, Chloe Feoranzo, (and the only woman in the group) was particularly brilliant, throwing down shattering solos while sporting a cute, period-inspired ensemble (Pokey himself was equally dapper in a navy suit complete with tie and red suede shoes that I think everyone in the audience wanted to borrow). Multi-instrumentalist Ryan Koenig was also massively impressive throughout the evening, but his true mastery showed during his fiery, breathless (literally) solos on the harmonica, while guitarist Adam Hoskins charmed the audience with a terrific instrumental composition. And as for the front man himself, he is easily one of the best showmen I’ve ever seen, effortlessly charming his audience, flirting and joking with them between songs (I later discovered how tired and sick he was on this leg of the tour, and I can say that it NEVER showed). Furthermore, his voice, which I’ve always found to have a unique and powerful timbre on recordings was incredible in real life…swirling seamlessly between mellow crooning and emphatic wailing.
Like his contemporaries J.D. McPherson, The Cactus Blossoms, etc. Lafarge’s shows offer a nostalgic spectacle, taking his viewers back to an approximation of what music might have been like decades ago, but enriched with his habit of mixing genres and styles from different periods. And, as I’ve said before, this type of music is never so good as in Paris, where the crowds go wild for the “exotic” American flair of early blues, jazz and western swing. I’ve rarely heard so few people make so much noise, and when the night was over the crowd lingered for a time, still hoping they might persuade the ensemble to give up one more encore.
Special mention should also be made regarding Jake La Botz’s opening performance. I will speak in more depth later about his rich and poetic reinterpretation of blues, but for now let it suffice to say that this man blew my socks off, delivering his material in a warm, raw, unpretentious style that marvelously set the tone for the rest of the evening. I’ve been listening to his music almost on repeat since the night of the show and I’ve yet to find something I don’t like.
In an age moving increasingly towards the digital and electronic, acts like Pokey Lafarge and The South City Three are a rare treat, reminding us of our past and reinventing old traditions with an eye towards the future. And so, you will always be able to find me, stuffed in a tiny room, standing near the stage, and swaying with their music.
Pokey Lafarge is currently touring Europe and the United States to promote his new album Something in the Water. You can find all his upcoming dates on his website and can purchase the album on iTunes and Amazon or stream it on Spotify.