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Pokey Lafarge At The Lodge Room, Saturday, March 4th, 2023

Pokey Lafarge
Pokey Lafarge

Anyone who feels down should go to a Pokey Lafarge show. The Illinois-born singer-songwriter brings so much joy and dynamism to his vintage historic Americana that the enthusiasm is truly infectious. He played a sold-out show last night at the Lodge Room, and his ease on stage was a delight to witness. Despite the fact I had never heard of him, his very catchy song “End of My Rope” (off his 2020 album “Rock Bottom Rhapsody”) caught my attention at the beginning of the pandemic, and I could not resist checking out one of his live performances.

A trio from Georgia, Cicada Rhythm opened the night with a simple and heartfelt blend of folk, jazz, and blues. The couple (Andrea DeMarcus on upright bass and Dave Kirslis and guitar) charmed the crowd with lovely ballads and vocal harmonies delicately accompanied by drummer Colin Agnew. Their songs sounded sincere and rather simple while showcasing their inventive, skilled, and playful blend of American music.

Pokey Lafarge, whose real name is Andrew Heissler – of course it’s a pseudonym – is a unique character on a mission to make the glories of the golden years of music cool again. His repertoire is largely inspired by vintage rock & roll, western swing, ragtime blues, ‘30s jazz, and beyond, but he is much more than a nostalgic act. His sound combines all the hallmarks of a certain era with a personal modern twist, while the result is largely upbeat and optimistic. On stage, he seems like he was taken right out of an old movie: he is all hair pomade, with an elegant tie and a giant smile, and looks almost like Hank Williams Sr, without the hat.  As soon as the music starts, the foot-tapping rhythm rarely stops, and his fantastic grooves exude joy and bring the crowd to their feet at the first note.

He launched the show with the hooky and infectious “Get It ‘Fore It’s Gone” followed by the boogie infected “Fine to Me,” off his last album “In the Blossom of Their Shade,” and since the songs were executed with plenty of humor and vocal eccentricity, the crowd was immediately charmed. Surrounded by a full band, dressed as sharply as he was, the music rumbled and galloped with great style, a strong retro flavor and exotic embellishes here and there, and Pokey’s vocals stayed strong and powerful above the guitar solos and the wobbling keys. “To Love or Be Alone” had a pleasant Spanish style accentuated by a bright (Pocket) trumpet solo, while the tender ballad, “Yo-Yo,” had a dreamy Caribbean Island inspiration, just like “Mi Ideal.” “Wanna Be Your Man” was old-school New Orleans jazz and “Something in the Water” was a hot swing number. The entire performance was a melting pot of styles, sounds, and ideas and Pokey was effortlessly jumping from one style to the next: he was not even afraid to croon with love songs like “Lucky Sometimes.”

The show took another turn when Addie Hamilton joined him on stage with a classic Hollywood star entrance. With her Holly-Wood platform shoes, and an all-white Lucy Ball dress (she even had her hair up like Ball), she added her clear honeyed vocals in the mix, pleasantly contrasting with Lafarge’s sharp tenor voice during a series of duets like “Bluebird,” or the crowd-pleaser sing-along “Goodbye, Barcelona.”

Between songs, Pokey addressed the crowd with a fast and upbeat midwestern optimism, even throwing flowers to the audience. He mentioned several times that it was “Play Outside National Day” (or was that Pray Outside?) then “National Pound Cake Day” and shared with us a large pound cake at the end of the show. Since the night was definitively under the sign of joy and love, he also announced that Addie and he were engaged, receiving another cheering clamor from the crowd.

“Killing Time” was a blend of New Orleans, Rhythm and Blues, country with gospel choir tempo and we were back to vintage rock with an older song, “Central Time,” and the hot Swing of “The Devil Ain’t Lazy” all executed with the same communicative enthusiasm. During the encore, he and Addie performed a beautiful solo rendition of Cole Porter’s “Blow Gabriel Blow,” in honor of his participation in a recent Cole Porter project, and the end of the show had the exuberant excitement of “Don’t Let it Go” and the heartfelt sincerity of “Goodnight, Goodbye (Hope Not Forever).”

“‘In The Blossom Of Their Shade’ is the first record I’ve made, perhaps ever, where I’m searching for the light as opposed to darkness,” Lafarge said in an interview. “Musically a combination of Bo Diddley and Roy Orbison in the Caribbean. Sonically like early JJ Cale and Van Morrison recorded live direct to 1/4 tape…You can consider this song funky praise or a praise song with a lowdown groove. To me, it’s kinda 60’s Bobby Darin meets Junior Wells.”

At times, Pokey Lafarge reminded me of other original artists like CW Stoneking and his “king of the jungle” blues or Nick Waterhouse and his ’50s-inspired R&B aesthetic, as they all draw their inspiration from the past. However, Pokey Lafarge had a unique style, which he executes with an extremely infectious spirit. He knows how to make a mix of esoteric styles completely his own while often reaching classicism topped by a large touch of hopeful confidence. Plus, last night, he definitively found the light he was searching for.

Get It ‘Fore It’s Gone
Fine to Me
End of My Rope
Fallen Angel
To Love or Be Alone
Wanna Be Your Man
Something in the Water
Lucky Sometimes
Goodbye, Barcelona
Killing Time
Heaven I Seek
Mi Ideal
Central Time
The Devil Ain’t Lazy
Blow Gabriel Blow
Don’t Let it Go
Goodnight, Goodbye (Hope Not Forever)

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