This Pokey LaFarge article was written by Nick Roseblade
“It’s been a few years since I sung in church” Pokey LaFarge tells us after he strides confidently on stage this evening. But this isn’t any normal venue, and in all fairness, this isn’t any normal church. It’s the Union Chapel in Islington. “I heard a little bit about how beautiful this venue was, but no words do it justice” LaFarge said to me before the gig, and he’s right. The Union Chapel is a rare venue as when it’s not being used to live music, it’s still a fully functioning church. But enough of the theology lesson, back to tonight’s performance.
LaFarge, and is backing band, are purveyors of traditional American folk, jazz and country. To look at them on the stage you’d be forgiven that Emmet Brown’s time machine wasn’t real, and that he’d gone back in time and picked up the best band on the circuit and dropped them in to North London tonight, but while they might look like a nostalgia act, they play with an intensity that and passion rarely seen these days.
Support act Jake La Botz delivered a mesmerising set of Chicago style blues. It was hard to tell the covers from his originals, but considering it was just him and a guitar for the majority of the set (he was joined by LaFarge’s drummer Matthew Meyer on the last song) his intensity never faltered. I was sad he didn’t play Blueshammer, but you can’t have everything right?
LaFarage and co. opened the set with the title track from their latest album ‘Something in the Water’. An ode to that person in your life that drives you crazy but, as LaFarge sings “She’s a pain in my brain, drives me insane. But I love her just same, boys, love her just the same”. Through a jaunty rhythm and clever composition they had the crowd eating out of their hands. After a couple of upbeat jaunty numbers, they slowed things down a bit with ‘Goodbye, Barcelona’, which LaFarge wrote after leaving Spain for the first time. “After I first went to Spain, I told the band to leave me here” he told me earlier “It took them a lot of rum to get me on that flight…” But the feeling and passion he felt is translated perfectly to music. Anyone who has ever fallen in love with a place that isn’t their home will resonate with it. This is the power of LaFarge’s music, he doesn’t just write love/working songs, but he writes about the whole human condition.
During ‘One Town at a Time’ he invited/suggested the audience dance in the aisles, which they with wild abandon. For the rest of the gig couples were jigging in the seats, through the upbeat and tender numbers. ‘Actin’ a Fool’ is another track that borrows from America’s rich musical history. The main guitar riff has a dollop of classic Luther Perkins to it and the wash board solo is a pleasure to behold live! After a couple of songs LaFarge departs the stage and guitarist Mr. Adam Hoskins debuts one of his own compositions. A Surf instrumental that wouldn’t be out of place on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. After this brief interlude, LaFarge s back, but the set now changes. While the songs are still upbeat and infectious, there is more purpose now. LaFarge wants to make the most of playing in this historic venue. At one point he performs a-top the pulpit, preaching to the congregation, namely us. His sermon was about how he never went to college, but travelled around America with a guitar and for a portion no shoes. While it might not have been the same as the weekly ones delivered, it did has the same message. If you work hard, you’ll find happiness in the end. The last five songs were the stars of the night. ‘La La Blues’ was followed by fan fan favourite ‘Drinking Whiskey’, ‘Central Time’, ‘Far Away’ and closing the set with ‘Day After Day’. The audience exploded and the band beamed.
At the end of the set when LaFarge and co left the stage, they had the look of someone who had accomplished what they set out to achieve. Yes at times the gig lost something in translation, it’s hard maintain intensity and keep people dancing, when you’re in a church and the audience are sitting on pews. While you could never say there is a mosh pit at LaFarge’s gigs, there is the feeling that people will start dancing at any moment. This feeling of unabashed abandon was lacking, but this is the problem with seated gigs. Overall it was a great set and one everyone involved with will remember for a long time. So same again next year, yeah…?