Pokey LaFarge – Tuning Fork

IMG_0776A Pokey LaFarge show is a 78-RPM record brought to life, a string of wildly, infectiously, exuberantly catchy songs performed by a band of talented musicians led by a man who could so very easily be a cartoon, a caricature, but who manages to be one of the most authentic performers I’ve heard in some time.

Pokey LaFarge — at once the stage name of Andrew Heissler and the name of the band he leads, once the South City Three but now a seven-piece — played to a completely packed Tuning Fork tonight, working through an 21-song set that could serve as a review of American musical history between the World Wars, or the soundtrack to a Norman Rockwell painting. Songs like Wanna Be Your Man and Actin’ A Fool swung with astonishing energy, with slower numbers such as Let’s Get Lost, a sweet duet between Pokey and clarinetist Chloe Feoranzo, quietly affecting.

Pokey Lafarge’s music encompasses a remarkable range of styles, bouncing between swing, and jazz, and ragtime, and country blues. Leading the band’s sound were Feoranzo, outstanding on clarinet, sending her solos swirling and soaring with a wonderful intensity, and TJ Muller, who still had enough energy after dancing his way through the opening act’s set to play some quite delightful cornet, driving the instrument to shriek and howl and cry.

In the end, though, it was a Pokey LaFarge show, and the star was Pokey, the man. Dressed in a grey-blue denim suit, his hair sculpted with enough Brylcreem to last most men a lifetime, he could have stepped straight out of a Steinbeck novel. He sang with power and intensity, leading a band that knew exactly what he needed. Adam Hoskins’ electric guitar, a hollow-bodied electric, cut through the band’s sound and added a pleasing bit of bite to the mix. Joey Glynn slapped his upright bass for all he was worth, teaming up with Matthew Myer on restrained, understated, but perfectly-played drums to make an unbeatable rhythm section. On banjo, and on a rather frantic harmonica, Ryan Koenig was a crowd favourite. But it was, after all, Pokey’s show His voice, it must be noted, isn’t always entirely equal to the task of singing some of his slower, softer numbers, but when he cuts loose, and the band start trotting through riotously lively numbers like Central Time or The Devil Ain’t Lazy, there is no questioning the strength of his singing.

Pokey also showed that he knows how to work an audience. As Something In The Water played out, he and the band let go a little and had the audience dancing as best they could in a packed room. Between songs, he engaged with the audience with charm and ease. The mandatory couple of New Zealand references were, of course, dropped in, the reference to “rainy Auckland evenings” in In The Evening quite appropriate tonight. He reminded the audience that he’d played at WOMAD last week; a good number, it appeared, had been at both that show and tonight’s. But perhaps someone should mention to him that when you pronounce Cairo as Kay-ro, it sounds like something quite different to a slightly confused Auckland crowd.

In the end, then, this was a quite wonderful show. It would be very easy to dismiss Pokey LaFarge as something corny, hokey, cheesy. His music is, indeed, hopelessly dated — he embraces genres that haven’t been fashionable since long before he was born. But tonight’s show saw the genres he clearly loves played with respect, and affection, and energy; there was nothing dated about tonight’s performance.

– Steve McCabe

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Steve McCabe:

Poke LaFarge Set list:

Knockin’ The Dust Off



City Summer

Let’s Get Lost

Wanna Be Your Man

Actin’ A Fool


All Night Long

Something In The Water


Far Away

The Spark

Devil Ain’t Lazy


Close The Door

Central time


In the Evening

What’s The Matter


Let’s Go Get Stoned