The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion:
Preachin' the Good News of the Blues
Concert Review by Brian Farrelly, October 1998

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is here to funk your shit up, whether you likes it or not. For those who've never witnessed the Blues Explosion's unique brand of rock and roll, it's part carnival barking, medicine show and part primordial soup of punk, blues, funk, rap and rockabilly, all custom designed to blow your friggin' mind.

As usual, the Blues Explosion's gig at the Bowery Ballroom on October 3, 1998, saw them put on a show with more fervor and soul than any other band on the face of the earth could muster. Russell Simins, one of the most amazing drummers on the planet, played as if he were abandoned as a child and raised by the Energizer bunny and a 12-inch single of Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise" that permanently skipped on the song's drum sample. Judah Bauer, looking cool and detached (like he'd just been kicked off of a CK-One photo shoot for actually shooting heroin instead of just affecting the heroin chic look) picked out gut-wrenching staccato notes on his Telecaster that sounded as if his guitar had been strung with barbed wire. And as for the man himself, Jon Spencer truly has inherited James Brown's title of "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business." (I just hope he doesn't also inherit Soul Brother #1's penchant for wife beating and high-speed police chases too.)


Jon Spencer performed the show like he was on fire. He was a man possessed by the collective demons of Jim Jones, Little Richard, Iggy Pop and Jerry Lewis during a Labor Day Telethon. Through the course of the performance, he became worked into such a frenzy, you were not sure if his true calling was to be an evangelist or a punk rock poster boy. As a result, he came across like a hybrid of both – like a preacher man who likes to drink and fuck. He's what Jimmy Swaggart could've become if he'd only followed the wicked road of rock and roll (like his cousin Jerry Lee) instead of the path of the Lord.

They only played a handful of their older songs during the show (including openers like "Afro" and "Dang" and then later "Greyhound" and "2 Kindsa Love"). Instead, they mixed up the set with a truckload of new material off their new album Acme. The new tunes are definitely a lot slower and subtler than anything they've done previously. They aren't as in your face about how kick-ass their music is this time around. They're politely tapping you on the shoulder to say "Yeah Motherfucker!!!" instead of smacking you upside your head and shouting it through a megaphone.

It's not to say that the new material is any less ass kickin', it's just much more soulful and sneaky about how it goes about kicking your ass. The new songs are made for makin' long, sweet love to a woman as opposed to the 3-minute, mad copulations off Extra Width or Now I Got Worry. Perhaps this is their Barry White period.

After an hour and a half of preachin' the good news of the blues, the band was drippin' like a fat guy's armpit, 'cause The Blues Explosion give till it hurts. Hell, they sweat more on-stage in one night than Third Eye Blind do in a whole tour of South American sauna baths. After three encore songs (two new tunes and "Flavor" offa the album Orange), The Blues Explosion called off the dogs and packed it in till their next sex, drums and rock'n'roll revival.

Some say that Jon Spencer is rippin' off the blues, funk and soul from its African American originators and then slappin' on a white face to make it more marketable, ala Elvis or say Kenny G. In these days of Puff Daddy's wholesale shanghaiing of entire songs from lily white wunderkinds like Sting and David Bowie though, this statement could not be any more irrelevant. I envision a day when all of God's children will be able to sing whatever music they want, regardless of race, creed, color or shoe size. Why is there always some pain in the ass saying that so and so can't play a certain type of song, because they're not the right color?

If a Japanese dude wants to play Country & Western music, I say giddyap, Clint Black-san. If a black woman wants to cover Lawrence Welk polka tunes and only Lawrence Welk polka tunes, I say "A one and a two and a three!" sister. And if an upper-middle-class, East-Village punk wants to play juiced-up, Mississippi-Delta, share-cropper blues, I say play that funky music, white boy!


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