Saturday, August 1
Okay, everything I remember about Jon Spencer Blues Explosion from previous visits, from the previous times I’ve seen them here, is everything I (continue) to like about this band. They hit that stage hard, they hit it running and they don’t stop – until they’re done. And they’re done when they’re ready. No amount of begging could make a difference. They leave it all up there on the stage.
I described them to more than one person, ahead of the gig, as relentless. More than one person passed by towards the end of the set and whispered in reiteration, “relentless”. The word ‘brutal’ also came up. But I prefer ‘blistering’. And I don’t think you can describe them at all – Jon Spencer in particular, anyway – without some reference to ‘swagger’.
You see The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has been hitting it hard for a quarter-century now. They might actually have forgotten more about on-stage energy and the explosive energy that is there to harness for a sweaty, club gig than many other bands ever tried to learn.
Songs from the latest album mingle with songs from two decades ago, songs are served up in slivers, songs bounce around within other songs, songs stop and then start again – sometimes they’ve become a brand new song, burst out and into a brand new groove – songs just keep happening and in and around them Jon Spencer delights from his pulpit as he shouts, “Blues Explosion! Blues Explosion!”, (pronouncing it, Blooooz Explos-ian! Bloooz Explois-ian!) and the closest they ever get to blues – really – is at the Exile on Main Street-end of it. What’s always been far more important about the Blues Explosion name is the Explosion part or maybe think of it as hyphenated, Blues-Explosion, for there were times, watching them, where it sounded like The MC5 or Patti Smith’s first band – that era of punk and that attitude of garage rock. But still with just this smelly crust of blues about it; a post-blues more than any actual blues.
And it’s the type of explosion that could only have ever happened to the blues – with punk and hardcore and noise and fuzz and other messes – in New York. For it (the sound, their sound) owes more to Public Enemy and Sonic Youth and Television and Jonathan Richman’s Modern Lovers and (very early) Beastie Boys and – specifically – to the idea of all of that being stirred together, the resulting explosion creating Jon Spencer. And his band.
And this band knows how to churn and how to cook and how to stir and how to do the quick stops and the get-right-in-there starts. Judah Bauer’s guitar stings around Spencer’s vocal and guitar growl. And Russell Simins’ propulsive groove on the kit is part of the pushing-towards-relentless.
After 50 minutes the band calls time. And that’s fine. They have thrown more than 80 minutes of sweat and grit and guts into that 50 minutes. They then return for more – not that there’a d be any reason to be sore if they didn’t.
Goddamn what a band. Again. Again.
I can’t wait to see them again…
Postscript: They arrived in the country – after hours of flying – just a few hours ahead of this show. The drummer nearly missed the gig. The band had to postpone Auckland – at first it seemed they’d cancelled, might not make Wellington. But they did – and then on from there to two South Island gigs and back to do Auckland later this week. They arrived in less than ideal conditions, last minute, panicked, nursing a member who had recently undergone surgery. You would have had no way of knowing that from the performance. Road-tight, always ready, their version of the blues-ooze just ready to explode.