There was surely something in the water at Wonder Ballroom in Portland, Oregon Tuesday night. I bore witness like a soul being saved to the genre-blending music of Pokey LaFarge. He walked on stage, with his arms wide open, a welcoming host with his merry and mischievous band of story tellers. The night was to be a dizzying journey through his latest release, Manic Revelations, by way of old favorites from the myriad of albums before it. Pokey was a revelation that night, a troubadour, a crooner, and a band leader all in one that digs for treasure and produces a goldmine.
Most crowds I have witnessed lately have kept a short distance from the stage, lending the artist some breathing room to tell their story; but Pokey LaFarge and his 6 piece band were allowed no such leeway. The throng of energized fans hugged the edge of the stage as if they were ready to pick up an instrument and join in the revelry. The band played through an astounding number of songs, starting with new favorites such as “Riot in the Streets,” and a touching tribute to the victims of the recent attacks in Barcelona, with “Goodbye Barcelona.” The band was able to handily transport us to Spain, with castanets in the background leading us through the streets as we bid adieu.
The feel of the room snapped back to the Americas, and we were quickly jolted back to life with “The Devil Ain’t Lazy.” The infectious nature of the call and response of this chorus, the manic, yet controlled harmonica solo, made the crowd vibrate in resonance to it all. If I closed my eyes in the middle of his set, it was to try to figure out where Pokey LaFarge was transporting me to yet again, from the back porch in an old southern town, or a back alley, smoky speakeasy with west coast swing vibrating the floor. Words can barely put into context this modern tapestry of stories woven into Pokey’s set that night, but I was entranced, as were my feet, almost stomping to the slapping of that upright bass as I tried to keep up.
Pokey engaged the audience with some banter on staying together- “you just stay together,” he quipped with a wry smile, and introduced us to new music from a future album. I walked away that night in awe of a man who can straddle modern subjects with a musical style that digs its heels in resolutely to so many styles, making it impervious to labels. But who cares what you call his music? It is disarming, sweet, riotous, and real, which is as endearing as his presence on stage. So, when I left at the end of this magical evening, tired feet that continued to tap their way to the car, I closed my eyes, felt the breeze hit my face, as I hummed, “I don’t mind the west coast…no siree.”