Pokey LaFarge Turns Back the Clock at The Bowery Ballroom

June 5th, 2013

Pokey LaFarge – The Bowery Ballroom – June 4, 2013

There’s old school and then there’s old school. When it comes to Pokey LaFarge, who played a raucous set last night at The Bowery Ballroom, the music is one-room-schoolhouse old. Leading a six-piece that looked every bit the part (let’s just say there was some awesome facial hair onstage and in the crowd), the St. Louis native played his blend of old-fashioned country, swing, jazz and the like. And although it seems like this sound is back in vogue these days, it most likely never left.

The band hopped right into it with their signature “St. Louis Blues,” clarinet and a muted trumpet backing up guitar, bass and percussion, sounding like someone had dug up an antique radio, turned it on and heard the music of its era. “Sadie Green” was Western swing with top-notch solos from all the players. Adam Hoskins was a standout on the gypsy swing guitar, not only playing his solos, but also channeling an entire era through them.

A large portion of the set consisted of songs from LaFarge’s upcoming new album on Third Man Records, including a highlight stretch of “Central Time,” the washboard-fueled “Day After Day” and “Close the Door,” the latter being a “political song” about healthcare. And while it’s a modern topic, the song had that perfect sepia tone to it, like it had been discovered, not recently written. That was the set in a nutshell: new songs that sounded old, old songs that were fresh and new. LaFarge kept a steady stream of his music coming with kindly introductions and an occasional arched eyebrow. The audience clapped and swung and sang along—old or new, this was the original blend of pop, jazz, country and dance, and a whole lot of fun. —A. Stein