The nostalgic sound of Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three is influenced by ragtime, country blues, swing, Vaudeville and folk Americana. Judging by how quickly the Bristol gig sold out (after being upgraded to a bigger venue), it’s an approach that has a wide appeal. With no warm-up band on the bill, the St. Louis foursome played an extended live set, including material from the award-winning Riverboat Soul as well as the more recent Middle Of Everywhere release.
The lyrical wit of LaFarge’s writing ranges across subject matter. The political satire of ‘In the graveyard now’ (with its ad-libs about Obama), the gun-toting revenge story of ‘Two faced Tom’, and the observational humour in the new song ‘Bow legged woman’ displayed LaFarge’s coruscating way with words.
The skilled musicianship of LaFarge, Joey Glynn on double bass, Adam Hoskins on guitar and Ryan Koenig on harmonica, washboard and snare, drove each song forward with riffs and solos that had the crowd whooping with delight. There were lots of opportunities to sing along: ‘Pack it up’, ‘La La Blues’, ‘Drinkin’ whiskey tonight’ and ‘Hard times come and go’ enabled the assembled Bristolians to exercise their vocal chords to great effect.
Despite having released Middle Of Everywhere less than a year ago LaFarge talked about the next album and shared material that will feature on that record, including ‘One town at a time’, the new anthem for the band’s nomadic lifestyle.
LaFarge’s rapport with the audience was evident in the chat between songs as he mentioned the band’s appearance on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny show, working with Jack White, and the warmth of the Bristol crowd. On their first visit to the city LaFarge and the South City Three were greeted with rapturous applause and demands for an encore, during which the amenable and accomplished musicians took requests.
One of the loudest requests of the night was that the band return to Bristol and, whilst it may be some time before Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three are able to fulfill that promise, when they do there will be a captive audience eager to hear more of their sweet St. Louis sound.
Words and photographs by Amanda Penlington