New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Pokey LaFarge Brings His Ruggedly Individualistic Americana to Williamsburg Tonight

Last night in between sets at Bowery Ballroom the PA played Los Mirlos’ creepy, otherworldly version of Sonido Amazonico, which is both the national anthem of cumbia and sort of the Peruvian equivalent of Take Five. A little later, the song was Don Gibson’s 60s country-pop hit Sea of Heartbreak. Both perfectly foreshadowed a deliriously fun show by rugged Americana individualist Pokey LaFarge and his fantastic seven-piece band.

On one level, what LaFarge plays is retro to the extreme, a mashup of early 50s hillbilly boogie, western swing, hot 20s jazz, vintage New Orleans soul, honkytonk, Tom Waits, Tex-Mex, mambo and a little southwestern gothic and noir bolero for deliciously dark contrast. On the other hand, there’s no one in the world who sounds like LaFarge: he’s taking a bunch of well-worn, familiar styles and creating something brand spanking new.

His band is amazing. Drummer Matthew Meyer energized the crowd with a pummeling Wipeout interlude. Bassist Joey Glynn drew a lot of chuckles with a punchy solo that quoted both the Who and the Violent Femmes. Midway through the set, LaFarge explained that he’s hardly the only good songwriter in the band, then left the stage for a smoke break or something. So banjo player Ryan Koenig switched to electric guitar and played one of the night’s best numbers, a gorgeously rueful oldschool honkytonk song about smalltown anomie titled This Main Drag (or something close to that).

Saxophonist Ryan Weisheit switched from alto to smoky baritone, to maybe tenor – it was hard to see through the crowd. Trumpeter Luc Klein played all sorts of wry effects with his mute. And lead guitarist Adam Hoskins adrenalized the audience with axe-murderer volleys of tremolo-picking, masterfully precise bluegrass flatpicking and fiery blues.

The songs really ran the gamut. With his matter-of-fact baritone, LaFarge doesn’t overemote. He added a little twang on the country numbers, and took a few Roy Orbison slides upward in one of the sad ballads, but he doesn’t try to sound like anybody else. And he only took a couple of guitar solos, but he made those count. A lot of the material was from LaFarge’s latest album Manic Revelations, including the title track, an unapologetic populist anthem, and the more upbeat but even more savage Silent Movies, a jauntily swinging nonconformist manifesto for an age where the performer onstage is reduced to a pretext for the selfie clusterfuck on the floor. Just so you know, there was none of that at this show.

Something in the Water – a subtly gospel-infused portrait of a hoosier chick who “drinks malt liquor for lunch and dinner,” and Manic Revelations, the title track to LaFarge’s previous album – went over well with the crowd, a refreshingly muiti-generational, multicultural mix of typical 99-percenter New Yorkers.

The band did Actin’ a Fool closer to subterranean homesick Dylan than the oldtimey swing of the album version. One of the night’s high points was a slowly crescendoing, blue-flame take of the flamenco-infused waltz Goodbye Barcelona. After LaFarge brought the lights down with a muted solo fingerpicked version of the cautionary ballad Far Away. “They’’ll lure with their eyes, and trap you with their thighs,” LaFarge intoned. He wound up the set with a rapidfire take of the triumphantly scampering Drinking Whiskey.

The encores were just as energetic and businesslike: an Allen Toussaint/Lee Dorsey soul-shout, and a choogling cover of Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell. They’re doing this again tonight at around 10 at Rough Trade. If you want a rare asshole-free night out in that neighborhood, this is it. Tix are $25 at the door and worth it.

The Spellbinding Rachelle Garniez Tops the Bill at This Year’s Bryant Park Accordion Festival

What’s the likelihood of being able to get what amounts to an intimate, personal show from the world’s greatest English-language songwriter? A handful of New Yorkers got to experience that at last night’s edition of the ongoing Bryant Park Accordion Festival, following Rachelle Garniez across the park to various stations for tantalizingly brief fifteen-minute mini-sets.

Even though there were two dozen other accordionists playing in the park’s four corners and next to the fountain on the Sixth Avenue side, it was impossible to resist taking in two sets from Garniez. What was most fascinating was to watch her mash up elements of latin, klezmer, zydeco, classical, punk rock and even a bit of opera, banging out one song after another without the hilariously surreal, politically-charged stream-of-consciousness intros and jams that have made her legendary among New York performers.

The best song of the night was Tourmaline, a bittersweet waltz that works on innumerable levels: ultimately, it’s about rugged individuality triumphing against all odds. Without any more fanfare, Garniez let the rest of her songs speak for themselves.

The funniest moment was during Jean-Claude Van Damme, a tongue-in-cheek shout-out to a pitchman for antidepressants. She got everybody laughing when she reached the part about certain personality traits that have to be brought under control – then hammered that word again, and again, until everybody within earshot got the message. The faux-operatic outro, where she took a flying leap to the very top of her formidable four-octave vocal range, was pretty funny too.

She also played the jaunty, cabaret-infused Just Because You Can (Doesn’t Mean You Should), whose corollary is “just because you should doesn’t mean you can,” along with the slyly strutting, seductive Medicine Man, packed with all kinds of coy double entendres. She’s emceeing the festival’s closing night a week from today on June 21 at 6 PM, which might be the single best concert of the year, a bill that includes the Bil Afrah Project, who recreate iconic Lebanese composer Ziad Rahbani’s legendary 1975 Bil Afrah album; pyrotechnic Romany accordionist Peter Stan’s new band Zlatni Balkan Zvuk, Brazilian accordionist Felipe Hostins’ new forro group Osnelda; and cumbia accordionist/crooner Gregorio Uribe leading his slinky big band in celebration of Colombian Independence Day.

The festival’s only drawback is that it’s such a feast that there isn’t time to see everybody on the bill. It was awfully cool last night to watch accordionist Simon Moushabeck make his way through Arabic modes with all sorts of enigmatic passing tones, in two abbreviated duo sets with oudist Brian Prunka, mixing up steady, serpentine originals with a Fairouz cover or two.

Further to the west, Sadys Rodrigo Espitia played equally slinky, catchy cumbia and vallenato numbers. When he forgot the words to the hit Cumbia Del Oriente, a woman in the crowd sauntered over to the mic: and sang them with serious Colombian pride.

It was also cool to get to watch popular busker and Thee Shambels accordionist Melissa Elledge jam out cinematic themes and a Johnny Cash classic, then make noir blues out of Beethoven. Late one night a couple of years ago in the Second Avenue F train station, after a Bowery Ballroom show, Elledge played what had to be the most heartwrenchingly gorgeous version of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 ever. So it was refreshing to be able to just chill on the grass and hear her think outside the box without the usual subway stresses. Garniez may be the world’s most brilliantly eclectic songwriter, but as an instrumentalist, Elledge is on the same page.

Before the big blowout on the 21st, there’s another night of mini-sets from another amazing cast of accordionists at Bryant Park on July 19 starting at 6 PM, with a lineup including avant garde and klezmer player Shoko Nagai, pan-Mediterranean wizard Ismail Butera, jazz luminary Will Holshouser and Ed Goldberg & the Odessa Klezmer Band.

Celebrate Nelson Mandela’s Birthday with a Free Concert in the Bronx Saturday Night

For anyone stuck in the Bronx this weekend because of the 2 and 5 train shutdown, there’s an intriguing free show this Saturday night, July 15 at 7 PM at the Bronx Music Heritage Center, where singer Tsidii Le Loka – star of a popular musical that became a Disney film – is doing a Nelson Mandela birthday tribute. A major Miriam Makeba collaborator, Loka will be performing her show To the Rising Sun, featuring songs by Makeba and the words of Mandela.

The BMHC is at 1303 Louis Niné Blvd in the Bronx. The show is part of the Paris New York Heritage Festival, which runs through the 21st of the month.