Pokey LaFarge @ The Echoplex – 9/13/2012
Thursday night at the Echoplex, Pokey LaFarge and The South City Three were joined by The Driftwood Singers and the endlessly witty, Two Man Gentleman Band. The backwoods, bluegrassy lineup permitted- perhaps misguidedly- some of the more eccentric Angelenos to pull out vintage wild west garb; bowler hats, cowhide vests, and Navajo bola ties in all.
The boy/girl duo, The Driftwood Singers took the stage around nine to finish their sound check and arrange themselves for the beginning of the show. Kris Hutson on his hollow-body guitar looked a little like Justin Vernon gone country. Pearl Charles emanated a perfect, southern belle, with her waist-length tangles of jet-black hair, and aged, floral peasant skirt. Pearl’s humble, warm, and feminine voice complemented the Dylan-esque whine to Hutson’s baritone.
During their opening ballad, “Corn Liquor,” their voices poured with a feeling amorous and nostalgic, but stumbled amongst the tangle of their melancholy wordings. Pearl cooed “I got a confident heart with stage fright” during the charming, “If I Take That Notion,” off their self-titled album. The Driftwood Singers are lovely, but nothing outstanding or original. The duo stuck to the basics, keeping it down home, serenadey, and traditional.
After a short intermission, the Two Man Gentleman Band demanded the audience’s attention with their mind-blowing stage presence. Andy Bean and Fuller “The Councilman” Condon woke up the sleeping crowd with a steady acoustic guitar strum and one upright bass solo after another. I won’t deny that the boys looked young, perhaps not even old enough to have left their beer ponging days behind them, but it was unexpected when Bean’s voice cracked occasionally. Thankfully, the tipsy, workweek audience cheered them on enthusiastically, and the boy carried on their witty setlist.
Andy Bean “and [his] friend The Councilman” played intelligent song after intelligent song, mocking everything from traditional, bluegrass themes such as heartbreak, to more modern debacles like prescription-drug abuse; the beautiful truth was that they got away with it because their sound was so rich and demanding technically. If this was rock, the lead guitarist would have shredded, but this was something too southern for that. Something so beautiful, and traditional, and backwoods, but so unexpected and organic, you couldn’t help but fall in love. I especially admired that unlike many other musical groups of their genre, these boys refused to forget which century they belonged to. Andy Bean took a stab at how his partner dazzled in the Los Angeles limelight, telling the audience, “I usually check my cell phone, respond to a few texts, you know, if the bass solo is long enough.”
The pair finished off a stellar set with the ever hilarious “Please Don’t Water it Down.” The lyrics “please don’t water it down, / I wanna get silly” perfectly describe the influence of this musical dynamic: raw, intoxicating talent, with the just enough bite to evoke gut-cradling guffaws. The cherry on top was a shadowboxed imitation of Townshend’s controversial 1964 guitar smashing incident.
Pokey LaFarge and The South City Three finally took the stage with a very charming southern accent. He looked like a cross between Peewee Herman, Ferris Bueller, and Hugh Grant. Before he even sang a note, Pokey’s grin was almost as infectious as the country screams from his band mate’s harmonica. If it wasn’t for the neon lights tingeing the room or the disco ball hanging overhead, the American roots melodies would have made it easy to forget that we were gathered in a bar in the center of Los Angeles.
I seriously cannot overstate how talented Ryan Koenig was on the harmonica. So good, I didn’t even know a harmonica could sound so dynamic. These boys had so much soul that they almost sweated corn whiskey and morphine, sedating their audience into a wide-eyed, open-mouthed mass, hypnotized by the bluegrass licks bubbling from LaFarge’s acoustic guitar. It did not surprise when Pokey admitted to “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep,” a collaboration on Jack White’s recent solo album, “Blunderbuss.”
As Koenig proved himself on the washboard, I realized how much he resembled a Midwest Captain Hook. Not surprising to anyone, Pokey busted out Mark Twain quote, “the coldest summer I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” to introduce him audience to the next number. Harmonica trills wailed through the mists of acoustic guitar chord progressions and thumping upright bass. Pokey’s voice bluegrass bravado had a lovely, humble, blue-collar feel to it. At a shortage of musicians, Adam Hoskins did a fantastic job imitating kazoo bluesyness with his lips.
These guys put together a mad lyrical structure, rhyming in a manner that surprises the listener at every verse: “come on down to Louisville/ where the blue grass grows/ and the bourbon flows like wine.” At the last minute, Koenig busted out a drum and rat-a-tat-tatted on that too. Be sure to check out Pokey LaFarge and The South City Three’s new CD and LP called “Middle of Everywhere”, “cause it feels like we’re always in between one place and another, and mama knows we won’t be home until Thanksgiving, and then we’re off to a bout in Europe.”