Pokey LaFarge. Photo by Mick Leonardi.
w/ Margo and the Pricetags, Rachael Davis
Mercy Lounge; Nashville, TN
April 22, 2015
Review by Jacqui Sahagian. Photos by Mick Leonardi.
Last week, American roots music revivalist Pokey LaFarge brought his acclaimed live show to Mercy Lounge in celebration of the release of his seventh record, Something in the Water, earlier this month. LaFarge has built a loyal fan base from his charismatic live act and gained more attention than ever in the past couple years when longtime fan Jack White signed him to Third Man, and released a couple LPs though the label. Openers were Margo Price, easily one of the best and most underrated country singers in Nashville, with her band the Pricetags and jazz singer Rachael Davis.
Read on for our full review plus great photos by Mick Leonardi.
Rachael Davis is a jazz and swing singer from Michigan, a Midwesterner like LaFarge and working in similar musical traditions. She accompanied her rich jazz voice with tenor guitar and ukelele, as well as an incredible acoustic guitarist. Her bubbly stage presence was adorable and infectious as she joked about having just learned how to play a number or needing to cut the set short because she had to pee. Davis played some originals, including the ode to baseball “I’m a Diamond Girl,” as well as jazz standards, closing her set with “We’ll Meet Again.”
Margo Price is carrying on a slightly different group of musical traditions than the other two acts that played on this night, but here we still have someone doing things the old fashioned way and proving that way is better. Price’s voice calls to mind the great women in country music that are hallowed names in this city — Patsy, Loretta, Tammy. The songs she writes are also from the traditions of country music’s legends and not what passes for the genre these days. “Since You Put Me Down” is a country heartbreak ballad reminiscent of the saddest ones Hank Williams wrote. Not everything was so sad, though, with “Desperate and Depressed” being in a major key it’s more upbeat than the title and closing line — “I’ll be desperate and depressed until I die” — let on.
Price also mixed funk and rock influences in with her traditional country. And no country singer is complete with a tune about being in jail. “There’s lots of people claiming to be outlaws, and that’s alright, I’m not saying I am one, but I did write this song in jail,” Price said before playing a song about being in the Davidson County Jail. At one point in the set Price said, “Good to know some people in Nashville still appreciate real country music.” I know most people around my age (24) are moving to this city for the hip bar scene and indie rock bands, but I came here for exactly the kind of traditional country music that musicians like Price are upholding in a city that profits off the garbage they play on CMT. Yes, Margo, I do appreciate it.
LaFarge doesn’t feel like he’s doing a cheesy throwback act or ‘modernizing’ the jazz, ragtime, swing, country western, and blues that he and his band play because they so reek of authenticity it seems like the entire group stepped out of the early last century. LaFarge had a five-piece group behind him that at various times included a banjo, a trumpet, a clarinet, a saxophone, stand-up bass, and harmonica. They kicked off the set with “Knockin’ the Dust Off the Rustbelt Tonight,” an ode to LaFarge’s Midwestern roots. LaFarge was born and raised in Illinois, currently resides in St. Louis, and says that the Midwest plays a large part in the music he makes, particularly on the latest record.
With his signature slicked-back hair and denim suit, the influence of vaudeville is plain in LaFarge’s showmanship. He’s as much a bandleader as a frontman, conducting his five-man band through the songs while leading the audience through sing-alongs. Mercy was packed to the brim with attentive fans that would’ve been content to just watch him play, but LaFarge seemed like he wanted to work hard for the audience’s attention; standing on the edge of the stage, walking into the crowd, and at one point borrowing my leopard fur coat for a gag (sadly we didn’t get any pics of that except some terrible ones on my iPhone). He and his band reminded me of characters in a Humphrey Bogart movie, the musicians added in for some comic relief while Bogie agonizes over some weighty moral decisions.
LaFarge’s music spans a huge swath of American musical traditions. “I Wanna Be Your Man” was jazzy ragtime, with an adorable sing-along and killer cornet solo. “Actin’ A Fool Forgettin’ You” was more country-western with a heavy harmonica feature. The title single from the new album “Something in the Water” is a terribly fun ode to a destructive relationship. He slowed it down as well for a nice solo version of the bitter heartbreak ballad “Far Away” during the encore.
Musicians like LaFarge believe they’re upholding musical traditions that never really went away, just sort of became less popular. He’s not being “retro” or “vintage” as a schtick and obviously is not only a talented musician, but deeply educated in America’s music history as well. At this show I noticed a joy in the audience that I never see at the hip indie rock shows I go to, where everyone stands around with their arms crossed, judging each other. People were smiling, dancing, and actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. Seeing LaFarge live and how much fun he made everyone have makes one wonder why this kind of music ever fell out of style in the first place.