Concert review: Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three, Humming House and Prairie Rehab open Twangfest 16 with a bang at the Schlafly Tap Room, Wednesday, June 6
Lead singer Lacie Mangels and her band (former members of the Linemen) wound jazz and country-power-pop into a mélange that would satisfy any wayward cowboy plunking his hat down on the bar. While Mangels’ verbal precision distinguished her from contemporaries, it also fuels comparisons with other countrified lady troubadours such as Joanna Newsom and Kathryn Calder.
Next Humming House appeared with the bridge of recent single “Cold Chicago,” from the Nashville band’s 2012 self-titled debut record. Vocalist and percussionist (and occasional melodica player) Kristen Rogers performed with a soulful voice that sprang and danced before the audience. “Stop Me Still” featured a Caribbean vibe, a fine whiskey pun and wonderful dynamics, while “Mrs. Wurley” was down-home and covered with a rusty, country anti-sheen.
Humming House, with their Mumford-and-Sons-meets-Avett-Brothers style, is a sure pleaser, but what impressed me more were moments that subverted such references, like when, in the folked-out “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Rogers stretched her pipes, conjuring a sultry, dark sound to revitalize the well-known Bill Withers tune.
Covers of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic,” decadent hits that indulged the audience, also showcased Humming House’s versatility, although I couldn’t help thinking that of the three covers, two were by recently deceased musicians. Perhaps such is the nature of paying tribute, but ah, death was in the air, a suggestion later sealed when Pokey LaFarge dedicated a tune to Doc Watson.
Soon, Pokey LaFarge, complete with his best John Dillinger haircut, was introduced by KDHX’s Roy Kasten to a crowd that whooped and roared as LaFarge and his boys steamed into “Devil Ain’t Lazy” by Bob Wills. The tune wove images of spurious back-alley deals and smoky poker rooms — all without the use of a muted trumpet. Toward the end of the track, the audience chanted back “No Sir-ee” at LaFarge as he sang, “The Devil ain’t lazy…”.
“Can’t Be Satisfied” featured LaFarge asking a lost love, “Where you gonna run to?” Ryan Koenig harped-out an incendiary harmonica solo during an extended bridge as the mutton chop-adorned Joey Glynn swung his upright bass and gave us all a joyous grin.
Pokey covered Woody Herman’s “Fan It” with a throwback vitality that caused a reflexive check of my watch, as if it could establish what decade this was. The tune was not frenetic like Herman’s original, because LaFarge made it his own, forcing the song to sit down into a nice sunny swing.
“Pack It Up,” from LaFarge’s 2011 7″ vinyl single, found the audience loving LaFarge’s characteristic rambling-man point-of-view, along with the metaphor of packing a suitcase that underscored the notion of leaving. Toward the middle of the song, he twanged out a solo that could have caught the neck of his guitar on fire had he sustained it a bar longer.
“Claude Jones,” from 2010′s “Riverboat Soul,” was full of just that, along with a crumble of cornbread and a splash of watermelon. Koenig strapped on a washboard full of bells and metal kitchenware that LaFarge, with affection, referred to as the “Fun Machine.” On his right hand, Koenig wore a woven glove with metal fingertips, enabling him to create a signature musical spoons sound and, at the tail end of LaFarge’s solo on a kazoo mounted Dylan-style around his neck, to ting a tiny cowbell.
“Head to Toe” and “Aint’ The Same,” both from 2011′s “Middle of Everywhere,” expressed LaFarge’s lament over time’s perpetual flow and his desire for creative and emotional freedom. After “St. Louis Crawl,” he dedicated “Feels So Good” to his lady-squeeze stationed behind the (loathsome, sightline-blocking) pillar. Adam Hoskins leapt into a vibrant guitar solo on his hollow body before Glynn did the same.
Pokey and the South City Three burned through “Bed Bug,” “Chitlin Cookin’ Time in Cheatham County,” “Bag of Bones,” and “La La Blues,” all of which the swinging audience relished. Soon after, Kasten returned to the stage to introduce LaFarge for an encore, who then covered a few Jimmie Rodgers tunes.
“Peach Picking Time In Georgia” and “In the Jailhouse Now” (the latter in the key of G minor) stood out from both of Rodgers’ originals and all covers of the songs since. LaFarge gave the audience one last huge smile, introduced his band, bowed and left the stage to applause as Hoskins took us all home on the guitar.