It’s like judo

The hulking figure lurking in a dark corner of Harlow’s a week ago Thursday, largely hidden by his gray cloth cloak, appeared almost medieval. For a while, he’d watched inconspicuously from behind the club’s columns while the night’s headliner, Jackie Greene, performed with longtime bassist and drummer Hence Phillips and Ben Lefever. Then the man retired to the shadows, where he nursed a small flask and talked about what he’d just seen.

“See, son, the blues is a shamanistic enterprise,” he said in a bourbon-edged half-whisper. “You got to learn to work the energy of the crowd. All them people”—he pointed at the crowd—“they got a sexual-energy thang going, and the music makes it more intense. You’re onstage, that energy gonna come at you like a wave and frighten you good, until you master it. When you learn to master it, you suck that energy in through the neck of your guitar and then deep into your soul. Then you let that pressure build until exactly the right moment, and then you hit the note that knocks the people down like bowling pins. See young Jackie there”—the shadow man pointed his flask toward Greene—“he finally figured it out, or maybe B.B. King hipped him to that when they was out on the road together.”

He paused and then added, “It’s like judo.”

After watching Greene destroy the crowd that night, I think the shadow man had a point.

The next night at Old Ironsides, it was Mike Farrell’s turn. His band Daisy Spot, in the middle slot between opener Baby Grand and headliner Deathray, stuck to its typical set of restrained Brazilian-flavored tunes. But every time an instrumental break would come, Farrell would take off on odd tangents, like a rock-guitar version of avant-garde jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp—straight past Neptune into some Kuiper Belt of musical mystery objects. It was fun hearing Farrell launch into each solo, wondering what oddball trajectory his solo would take. The band’s set was magnificent.

As for the rest of the show, opener Baby Grand seemed slightly underpowered, and singer Gerri Ranta was having pitch problems, but the band found its mettle mid-set. And Deathray, well, the band keeps getting better and better. Its next record, slated to be produced by Roger Valentine, who produced the band’s 2000 debut, should be a real treat.

Upcoming at Old Ironsides, something slightly different: hybrid funk-rock-soul vocalist Percy Howard is throwing a CD-release party commencing at 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 31, with Hybrid Records recording artist Jen Chapin (daughter of the late, great songwriter Harry Chapin) and Clairvoyant opening. Admission to the 21-and-over show is $8.