Golem & The Sway Machinery | 03.17

By: Jim Welte

Golem & The Sway Machinery :: 03.17.09 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA

The Sway Machinery by Heather Conley
What better way to spend St. Paddy’s Day than with a Jewish cantorial funk band and a klezmer-punk act whose singer sports a mullet-hawk and seems straight off the set of a telenovela? At The Independent, Golem and Sway Machinery, two incredibly talented New York City bands on the JDub Records label, tested the boundaries of dance music and put on a show that was quite a departure from the pint-swilling scene at your local Patty O’Shea’s pub. It was weird – but damn fun.

Sway Machinery was co-founded three years ago by Jeremiah Lockwood, a blues guitarist and grandson of renowned Jewish cantor Jacob Konigsberg. The band includes some of the heaviest hitters in the jazz, funk and rock scenes in New York, including Stuart Bogie (tenor sax) and Jordan McLean (trumpet) of Antibalas, Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Nick Chase and bass saxophonist Colin Stetson, a multi-instrumentalist and regular touring member of Arcade Fire. Stefan Schneider, a member of Bell Orchestre, which features members of Arcade Fire, has been filling in recently for Chase on the drums.

It’s safe to say that Sway Machinery has arrived at a sound that is both inimitable and challenging. The music was deep and funky at times, bluesy and hypnotic at others. Bogie, McLean and Stetson were monsters on their instruments and the result was a bottom-heavy funk with Antibalas-esque horn blasts all over it. But, Lockwood’s cantorial delivery, which resides somewhere in the neighborhood of Tuvan throat singing but deeper, was jarring. He delved into Yiddish, Aramaic and Hebrew throughout the night. And while the instrumental passages often seemed to crash into the vocal sections, it also made for some exhilarating, incomparable moments.

One of those was the closer of the 45-minute set, “Ahzemair Bishvecho,” which started slowly but built into a soaring call-and-response. Lockwood’s singing shrunk from verses into rapid-fire raps, and Bogie and McLean stabbed right back with short horn blasts. “Adiray Ayumah” was a sort of cantorial blues, with the band joined by Bay Area multi-instrumentalist Dan Cantrell on accordion and opera singer Megan Stetson on background vocals. On “A Staff of Strength,” from the band’s forthcoming album, Hidden Melodies Revealed, the band bathed Lockwood’s lyrics in a sultry riddim lathered with pungent horns.

Golem from myspace.com/golemrocks
While Sway Machinery had a packed house bobbing their heads with jaws agape at such a unique sound, Golem quickly set the room ablaze. The six members took to the stage all wearing some form of red, with founder Annette Ezekiel Kogan front and center playing a keytar that sounded like an accordion. The band sings mostly in Yiddish and plays gypsy jazz and klezmer with punk rock energy. As a result, a small mosh pit formed almost immediately, with fans tossing each other around to the frenetic beat.

“Train Across Ukraine” featured an appropriately locomotive-like rhythm that sent a surge through the room, and several tracks featured excellent interplay between trombonist Curtis Hasselbring and violinist Alicia Jo Rabins. Most of the songs were playful, especially the hilarious “Tucheses and Nenes,” a homage to the roundest parts of the female anatomy. Rabins and Kogan sang the chorus, while Diskin rattled off gems like, “I like them real/ I like them fake/ I like them all for goodness sakes!”

Diskin commanded attention throughout, often for his melodramatic vocal delivery that was hilariously over the top. He ripped open his shirt, bounded to his knees and rolled around onstage at various points in the set. The man definitely has theater in his background, and at one point was orchestrating the band with squeals and gestures – like a Balkan James Brown on Broadway.

The night concluded in appropriately bizarre fashion: San Francisco fixture Extra Action Marching Band, an 18-piece outfit featuring scantily clad flag wavers, jumped onstage after Golem finished, although the bill had the pair performing together. As Extra Action rattled off brass-heavy breaks over a wall of percussion, two girls in wedding dresses and sporting Insane Clown Posse-style masks did a choreographed dance with silver flags. Saint Patrick would have been perplexed, but pleased.

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