ItÕs a sticky, fuzzy line that Jon Spencer slides his long and lascivious fingers along. Energy means sweat and sweat means action and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (The Blues Explosion!!! or JSBX to you) wants everyone to take that, rub it all over and spread the word.
Instigating, arousing and annoying people seems to be The Blues Explosion's legacy so far. From naming its first album A Reverse Willie Horton to backing Mississippi blues legend R.L. Burnside last year, the very Caucasian JSBX is a circus of contradiction, hero-worship and rockin', rollin' theatrics.
So, of course, the band fuzzed the line even more and opened its Mississippi Nights show with a high-powered ditty called Afro. Lobbing its crawling (NYC by way of Vegas and Venus) hip shake straight onto the sold-out crowd, JSBX soon made the point clear: This is all supposed to be fun.
Two guitars, screamed and/or muffled vocals, a small jazz kit, theremin and an occasional harmonica was JSBX's deceptively simple attack. Spencer has admitted that his band doesn't really play the blues. It rocked and drooled and exploded in a frenzy that could've been mistaken for an early, punk-rock, blues-shock prototype.
JSBX did get downright bluesy with Blues Explosion Man. A mid-song monologue let everyone know that This is a song about [having sex]... I wish I was makin' love right now, snarled Spencer in the seedy Elvis drawl he conjures a little too often. He then hung from the rafters and everyone in his hominoid superfamily of fans probably thought the same thing as Judah Bauer's chunky chords rolled the sheets back.
For a deafeningly long, energetic time, the band spat out most of 1994's Orange album and the new Now I Got Worry. Drummer Russell Simins kept the sweat flying throughout Get Over Here, Orange, R.L. Got Soul, Skunk and Can't Stop (the only intelligible lyric, aside from the titular slogan, being Keeyiss my [posterior], cuz yer gurlfrind still luvs me.) Spencer's one-handed theremin seances during Dang, and between an R-rated Dub Narcotic cover and the mania of Identify, took the riff-oriented set down a weird alley where the blues don't shine.
Encoring with the upbeat Rocketship, Full Grown (more adult content and another serious theremin trip), 2Kindsa Love and Flavor (jammed as long as possible to end the show), JSBX made sure that its full-frontal antagonism greased the blood of everybody. Charges of insincerity have been common, but JSBX becomes a stripped-down juggernaughty on-stage: tight and electric and convincing.
The Blues Explosion just wants to keep rock erotic and rough. Overanalyze and one can see why Spencer's shtick has been criticized. He wears white patent leather shoes and walks in rock Ôn' roll's satyric footsteps. Give him as much credit as you think he deserves for reducing everything to nothing but a primal good time. It ain't brain surgery; it's just universal, hyperbolic id.
Tucson's Doo Rag was a perfect, skewed-bluegrass choice as an opener. Walking in on the duo's frantic barnyard orgy of sound was like catching two bad kids doing bad stuff. Ignoble steel guitar meshed with garbage can/cardboard percussion (the vocals were sung into a telephone) to create a hyper-rural set of enthusiastic stage frights.
|By The Billy Keaggy | Originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 1997
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