Blabber’n’Smoke first encountered Pokey LaFarge in 2009 playing solo in a small church hall during the Edinburgh Festival. Armed only with his guitar, a plastic kazoo and his stentorian voice he was a revelation with dynamite songs that harked back to pre WWII America and a fantastic stage presence. Pretty soon Pokey was back on these shores only this time with his comrades The South City Three, a striking combo who fleshed out the songs, all master musicians themselves with Ryan Koenig soon becoming a crowd favourite with his amazing harp solos and washboard routines. It was somewhat gratifying to watch their elevation from small clubs to larger crowds, both here and in the States, their hard work and sheer entertainment value reaping its rewards.
As the crowds grew so did Pokey’s vision and three years ago he added a two-person horn section to the mix. Now, on the back of his debut album for Rounder Records, Something In The Water, the band have a drummer in tow, Matt Meyer, a man schooled in jazz and old time country music. He adds a mighty sense of swing to the now seven-piece band with the result that tonight was the raunchiest set we’ve so far seen from LaFarge.
As is usual these days the hall was packed as Pokey and the band powered their way through the set. From Dixieland jazz to jungle voodoo rhythms they delivered several songs from the new album with Underground a highlight, Meyer’s drums pushing the beat. Something In The Water was vampish and Goodbye Barcelona with its Latin melody turned into a sing along with the audience. There was space aplenty for old favourites such as La La Blues and Koenig still has his chance to show off his harp playing, his solos still getting the biggest cheers of the night.
While Pokey was on fire, hollering away and animated throughout, racing around the stage as his players soloed he also displayed his sensitive side; a tender cover of Warren Zevon’s Carmelita a nice surprise. His solo delivery of Far Away, again from the new album, as the first encore was superb and a fine reminder that he is as capable of writing ballads as he is at recreating the atmosphere of a Kansas City speakeasy.