Pokey Lafarge at Schubas | Concert preview
Lafarge aches for the age of paddle steamers. His jumpy American roots music is a sheer joy. And not a novelty.
In the mid-’70s, with a voice like an ahooga horn, Canadian folkie Leon Redbone found unlikely pop success playing Tin Pan Alley and ragtime tunes. Rumors swirled that Redbone was a comic prank, Frank Zappa or Andy Kaufman in seersucker disguise. Some respect we Americans show our roots music. Sure, rip off Serge Gainsbourg or Fairport Convention and you’re an indie darling. Take your cues from Hoagy Carmichael and it’s seen as shtick.
This is how shaggy, solemn stiffs like Fleet Foxes can headline festivals while a sharp-dressed guy like Pokey LaFarge remains in obscurity. The St. Louis showman giddily strums and plucks old-timey rags, western swing and proto-blues. The 27-year-old clearly aches for the age of paddle steamers, and his tunes, largely original, recall a time when songwriting was entertainment, not self expression.
On Middle of Everywhere, LaFarge sings of drinking whiskey and a whole lot about rivers, with an antiquated twang that hardly needs a microphone. If his banjo jump, perked up by upright bass and harmonica, has any trace of modernity, it’s a pinch of Buddy Holly.
But this is not Steve Buscemi in Ghost World syndrome. There’s no trace of jaded snobbery, no chance of him saying, “MP3s will never capture that perfect mono sound of an acetate 78.” No, he just really loves this great-granddad music, and wants you to love it, too. It’s hard not to share his joy. And, as far as we can tell, Pokey is definitely not Dmitri Martin or Beck in a suit.