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Jeremiah Lockwood and the Sway Machinery Blaze Into Union Pool This Sunday

If you follow this blog at all, you know all about the Curse of the Residency. It goes something like this: a band book themselves into a venue for a show every week for a month. First night is a success: everybody’s friends are there. But the second night doesn’t draw, and the third night is a wash. The final night of the month gets a better turnout, pulling all the stragglers who’ve blown off the first three shows and are feeling guilty about it. Last month at Barbes, guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood shook off the curse and played a monthlong series of early Satuirday evening shows that by all accounts were absolutely transcendent. This blog caught the second and third installments.

The first of those two was a simmering, low-key duo set with singer Fay Victor, emphasis on the blues. The second was another duo performance with multi-keyboardist Shoko Nagai, and gave Lockwood a chance to really cut loose on the fretboard. This guy is an absolutely incendiary player, and what’s more, for somebody who likes long, flashy solos, he doesn’t waste a note. He’ll be bringing that rare blend of adrenaline and economy to his show with his individualistic Malian cantorial psychedelic rock band the Sway Machinery this Sunday, August 9 at around 8 at Union Pool. Another high-energy crew, latin rockers El Imperio open the night at 7 PM. Cover is $10.

Both with Victor and with Nagai, Lockwood played National Steel guitar, amplified only by the club’s PA. He didn’t need anything more, firing off slithery filigrees, jackhammer chords, nimbly rustic delta blues lines, creepy klezmer chromatics and Middle Eastern riffs and the occasional flurry of wild tremolo-picking. He also varied his dynamics, particularly with Nagai, a longtime collaborator and purveyor of similarly eclectic sounds, from epic film themes to animated avant jazz improvisation.

Nagai’s first song, which she played on accordion, was a sweeping, bittersweeetly pastoral film theme: the duo did it as something akin to a duet between Bill Frisell and Tin Hat accordionist Rob Reich (both of whom have played Barbes, although probably not together). Then Nagai  ducked under the piano…and remained in that cramped position until it was humming, and then emerged, gracefully, managing to hold down the pedal without losing her bright orange, vintage Kangol hat. Had she dropped her phone, maybe? No. She’d begun by playing inside the piano. a la George Crumb, and since the Barbes piano is an upright, that’s where you have to go inside to pluck and brush the strings. From there the two alternated between frenetic clusters of notes and resonant, minimalist chords, diverging and then coming together for an intense cantorial theme that Nagai ornamented with every flourish she could muster.

Another cantorial rock theme rose to almost stadium proportions – Lockwood is as powerful a singer as he is a guitarist. Unleashing his passionate but minutely nuanced baritone, he belted with the intensity of someone who’s the heir to a line of famous cantors (which he is). His otherworldly, shivery melismas had the same white-knuckle intensity as his solos on the guitar. The two ended the show with some energetic if not quite as titanic exchanges of solos and riffs, through a trio of blues numbers: a tasteful, purposeful take of Blind Joe Taggart’s Everybody’s Got to Be Tried, Elizabeth Cotten’s Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie and an instrumental encore where Nagai’s coy ragtime inflections and playful glissandos soared over Lockwood’s purist, spiky picking.

Purist, Soulful Guitar Polymath Jeremiah Lockwood Continues His Residency at Barbes

Because Jeremiah Lockwood is such a protean guitarist, you never know where he’s going to go. He can spiral through a long psychedelic break, take his time with a mysterious, haunting, chromatically-charged Middle Eastern melody, or jam out on a Malian desert rock vamp. He’s also a fantastic country blues player. The leader of the long-running, brilliantly psychedelic Sway Machinery is in the midst of a weekly residency this month at Barbes on Sundays at 5 PM – that’s right, five o’clock in the evening, pretty much on the nose. Which is perfect, because it’s a work night. He’s got a couple more shows to go – on the 19th, he’s with the absolutely brilliant and similarly protean Shoko Nagai on accordion, which ought to be a great opportunity to air out his repertoire of otherworldly, ancient cantorial themes. Then on the 26th he’ll be leading the “The Fraternal Order of the Society Blues,” where he’ll be joined by fellow axemen Ernesto Gomez from Brotherhood of the Jug Band Blues and Ricky Gordon of the Wynton Marsalis Ensemble, playing a tribute to their mentor, the great Piedmont blues guitarist Carolina Slim.

Lockwood’s Barbes show last week was an intimate duo performance with singer Fay Victor. It was an all-blues set, the two sharing a warm camaraderie as they made their way through a set of both standards and obscurities. They’d trade off solos, Victor sometimes just singing vocalese, subtly building to some unexpectedly powerful peaks, Lockwood hanging out in a mysterious midrange on his old resonator guitar. And as much as the vibe was rustic and antique, they reinvented the material. They did Memphis Slim’s morbid Back to Mother Earth as the kind of delta blues that he probably heard as a kid and decided to make bitingly elegant piano music out of. They did the much same when they went into the Muddy Waters catalog. A little later, they did a Jimmy Reed number, and instead of Jimmy Reed-ing it, all slinky and sly and lowlit, they picked it up with an emphatic bounce. Lockwood is a maven of so many styles; if blues is your thing, the show on the 26th should be off the hook, and this Sunday’s show is also definitely worth checking out if you’re in the neighborhood in the early evening. And the Sway Machinery will be at Union Pool with edgy latin rockers El Imperio on August 9 at around 9.