“It’s not retro music — it’s American music that never died.”
That line, taken from Pokey LaFarge’s Facebook page, echoed in my mind as I watched the St. Louis-based singer-songwriter work Wednesday night.
What could not have been a crowd of more than 150 were gathered inside the Loft, a woefully under-utilized concert space in North Texas, if only because of the intimacy it fosters between musician and audience. That connection was a key reason Wednesday’s show felt as electrifying as it did.
LaFarge and his ace bandmates — who deployed, at various points, clarinet, spoons, banjo and washboard — turned the venue on the edge of downtown Dallas into a time machine, taking those inside of it away from the chaos of the 21st century, taking us back to an era when life moved more slowly, and the music, rich with strains of jazz, country, folk and swing, could push you out of yourself, away from your cares and into a state resembling bliss.
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Nothing about the roughly 90-minute performance felt stale or precious — it was alive, humming with the vitality of flesh-and-blood musicians making music with their hands, their feet, their voices.
Leading off with Something in the Water, the title track from his latest studio album, LaFarge led the room through a set full of freewheeling, stylish tunes — he cuts an arresting figure; the part in his jet-black hair so sharp you could cut yourself — and showcased a flair for swinging between cantina balladry, shuffling bayou serenades and stomping rockabilly.
He pulled heavily from the new LP — Far Away (with its bleakly funny opener “Where have all the good girls gone?/Was there ever one?”), Actin’ a Fool and Wanna Be Your Man were among the sides aired out.
As the night progressed, LaFarge and his bandmates became the embodiment of that wonderfully indefinable American music — an amorphous, slippery thing that’s impossible to know except when you hear it and you begin to dance.
Here, inside the Loft, among a brace of individuals happy simply to lose themselves in the music and the moment, it was possible to glimpse that other America, a hopeful, happy, carefree place.
It stood in stark contrast to the America glittering right outside the windows — riven by hate and fear and uncertainty — but having stepped back in time, drawing strength from the past, made it a little easier to walk forward, out into the chilly night.
The evening had a fine mood-setter in the form of New Orleans’ “hillbilly music” purveyors the Deslondes. The quintet, clad in various forms of flannel, pearl-snap shirts and trucker hats, and all of whom looked a tad road weary (co-lead singer Riley Downing observed dryly at one point: “I don’t know if you knew this, but there’s a little bit of a traffic problem in Dallas.”), nevertheless reeled off a spirited half-hour set, full of galloping rhythms and close harmonies designed to set your spine a-tingle.