Relive New Year's Eve: River Kittens, The Hooten Hallers And Pokey LaFarge At The Pageant

By Cara Wegener
In Culture

Music-lovers poured into The Pageant on New Year’s Eve for the return of St. Louis’ most talked-about performer, Pokey LaFarge. Despite the roadblocks from the recent flooding, the venue was full of people dressed in ’20s garb and NYE sequins. River Kittens and The Hooten Hallers, both bands from the St. Louis area, opened the night of good ol’ Americana roots music.

River Kittens. Photo by Matt Pfaff

River Kittens. Photo by Matt Pfaff

The River Kittens (Allie Vogler, Martha Mehring and Mattie Schell) started the night off with their endearing song “Mama.” When those first opening harmonies soared through the silenced crowd, the audience was immediately captivated. Just when you thought the song is over, the girls, accompanied by their fairly new backing band, led a folksy jam to pick up the pace. Vogler then introduced the gentlemen behind them—Wallace McCanless on drums, Nate Gilberg on bass and Matt Rowland on guitar. Moving right into “I’m On My Way,” the Kittens’ played around to loosen up the crowd, then hit us with the beautiful melody of “Lady Blue.”  The fourth song, “Praise Be,” spoke volumes of the band’s ability to add depth and dynamic to a song. The girls carried the melody a capella at times, the bass tastefully dropped out and re-entered, the drum parts carefully chosen—using just a snare, bass and high hat—and the subtle slide guitar never took away from the intricate vocal patterns.

Arguably the catchiest song in the set, “Dressing On The Side,” was announced to the crowd as a song that speaks to people in the service industry. The crowd went wild. It’s a song that keeps you thinking, “it’s funny because it’s true.” The line “please don’t leave your number, ‘cause I would never date you,” had the pit in an uproar of laughter and cheers.

“We got a lot of servers in the audience tonight,” Vogler said with a laugh. “Trouble” followed, rounding out the original songs recorded on the River Kittens’ self-titled album (available for purchase at their CD release in March—stay tuned!) but the show wasn’t not over yet. The boys left the stage and Schell announed the girls’ admiration for their backing band. Then the trio began an a capella version of “Auld Lang Syne.” It was a perfect ending to a perfect first time at The Pageant for the River Kittens. I’m sure the crowd missed them when they left the stage—I know I did.

River Kittens. Photo by Matt Pfaff

River Kittens. Photo by Matt Pfaff

The Hooten Hallers took the stage just before LaFarge. The band—made of members John Randall, Andy Rehm and Kellie Everett—is a bluesy rock ‘n’ roll outfit out of Columbia, Missouri, but they spend a lot of time in St. Louis. The band got down with dirty guitar riffs, bass saxophone and gritty vocals—ranging from a clean soprano to notes so low they resemble the tone of a didgeridoo.

The energy hardly stopped from the second these guys hit the stage. Drummer Rehm stood behind his kit, ensuring power in every hit. Everett on the bass and baritone saxophone, an instrument as big as her, controlled the back end and added drama to big minor notes. Randall’s song delivery could only be described as passionate. The power in his vocals is undeniable, but the combination of lyrics and stage presence—whether it’s a ballad like “Trouble Is” or a powerhouse like “Rhythm and Blues”—is as honest as it gets. Randall switched to the lap steel, but that didn’t bring down the intensity in his captivating performance seen in songs like “Coming Down The Mountain.” I can’t wait to see where this band goes in 2016.

Finally, it was time for local hero and old-timey King to pull the reigns. LaFarge’s impeccable backing band took us there with an opening interlude before LaFarge himself took to the stage.  The crowd went crazy when LaFarge, dressed in a red blazer, emerged from behind the scenes. You could tell he was happy to be home.

Photo by Matt Pfaff.

Photo by Matt Pfaff.

His set included major hits like “Something In The Water,” “Central Time” and “LA LA Blues,” among a rendition of Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita” and a longer list of classic Pokey tunes. LaFarge appreciated his loyal audience asking, “We had a good year?” and sought their approval on what to play next—“You want to hear an older song?” He gave a shout out to Big Muddy Records and his opening bands, who joined him onstage for the countdown to the new year. “Five, four, three, two, one, Happy New Year!”

Pokey LaFarge New Year's Eve

Photo by Matt Pfaff

After the release of confetti and balloons, LaFarge’s band began to play “Auld Lang Syne,” instrumental. LaFarge ran around the stage kicking balloons and joining hands with his fellow performers. It was truly a fun and inspiring moment for all involved.

Photo by Matt Pfaff

Photo by Matt Pfaff

The magic never dies during a Pokey LaFarge show, taking us all back to a simpler time. This show was no exception. LaFarge put on a nearly two-hour set, whipping out all the tricks including dueling horns, mad harmonica, upright bass, and clarinet solos, a roaring encore, guest appearances and of course champagne! If you missed out on New Year’s Eve you can catch his next set, an intimate solo performance on Feb. 4 at Off Broadway Music Venue. RSVP here.

Photo by Matt Pfaff

Photo by Matt Pfaff

 

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