Pokey LaFarge at the Bodega, Wellington 29/03/2015

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”

Confucius once wrote that in his Book of Rites. It is the best expression I can steal right for the purpose of summing up the gig I went to last night. Pokey LaFarge – the band and its eponymous front-man took the stage at the Bodega in Wellington on Sunday night. The fact that he was playing on a particularly frigid night for cricket fans was not lost on Pokey, who took two curtain calls wearing a Black Caps outfit to the delight of the packed out venue.

Lacking as I am in music knowlege, the best I can do to describe the style of music is to say it is a combination of Americana, jazz, blues and ragtime. I am sure that is as wildly insufficient a description as a photograph of oxygen is of service to a drowning man, but you really need to listen to the source material. Because I try to be a conscientious chap, here is a link to their official site!

Rolling Stone magazine has described Pokey as: “Unrepentantly old-school, with a nasal vibrato that can recall Jack White’s.” I kept thinking of Cab Calloway, especially in the songs which featured much audience participation. There is a solid following in Wellington, and not difficult to see why. The band performed there in 2014, and is planning to return next year, no doubt to an even greater audience. However, I hope they don’t upgrade to a larger venue, the intimacy of small places like the Bodega really suits their style. Maybe my impression is dramatically skewed by the fact that I was in my wheelchair right in front of the stage (precisely where you want to be in a wheelchair, because the people behind you have an unobstructed view, and the music not the kind that besieges delicate ears).

The showmanship was excellent, and Pokey is more charismatic than you might expect if you’ve only seen photos of him. He connects well with the audience, and used microphone mishaps has comic fuel while never missing a bar of the swinging tunes. Other members of the band really deserve to be mentioned in much more detail; by much better expositors than I. Chloe Feoranzo on clarinet and saxophone was a clear audience favourite, and she took to the stage early along with TJ Muller on the Trumpet and Ryan Koenig on the washboard to jam with Wellington band The Dancing and Drinking Club, who were opening. Another fantastic group that you should look out for if you like swing jazz (like me!)

Koenig also played the banjo and moth organ and would leer out naughtily at the audience in between bouts of tremendous harmonica gobbling. His proudly long beard, gun-slinger trousers, waistcoat and brimmed hat made him seem like a John Steinbeck character, and that impression can be applied to all members the band. They are each unique in their style, all are nostalgic, and yet none are hackneyed. The word I am avoiding is retro, because it implies a lack of originality and also brings to mind the ‘hipster’ phenomenon. Rolling Stone magazine also said in their review of the 2013 album ‘Pokey LaFarge’, that they aim for timeless rather than retro. I think they hit their target. The effect as far as I am concerned is a kind of escapism. Swinging into different time that is so much better on the stage now than it ever was in the actual past.

So much more I could say, but alas, I have trespassed on your time long enough. Pokey LaFarge will return to New Zealand next year, and their latest album; Something In The Water, is out in April. Now that I’ve heard the music live, I cannot do without it. I think Confucius would approve.

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