Certain bands embody the spirit of the music they play. As such, they have a lot to live up to when they hit the stage and bring that style to the masses. In both name and twenty years of experience, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (JSBX) undoubtedly qualify as one of these groups.
For this writer, first hearing Acme-era JSBX marks an opening of the mind to other musical forms, from the limited scope of alt-rock to such diverse genres as soul and trip-hop. It was, then, with great anticipation that I approached my first time seeing the band live, at the not quite year old NYC venue Brooklyn Bowl.
With only one support band, there was little to distract from the main event. Given the muted response to Brooklyn’s own Golden Triangle, however, it seems that this was one too many for plenty of those in attendance. Despite the obvious energy put into their particular brand of garage-infused indie rock, the band suffer from too little variety to their songs. Each tune is a short, raucous run through with similar sound, dual vocals, and overblown tambourines. The set blends into one long repetition, until the more shoegaze heavy closer shakes off some of the dust, impressing but essentially too little, too late.
Thankfully there is much more to come and the real reason folks are here waste little time in taking the stage. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the sound team appear to have been off having a brew during the first few numbers, as they come over the PA muddied and barely recognizable as JSBX jams, bar the bass of course. Happily, matters improve somewhat as classic tunes like Wail and Talk About the Blues are wheeled out, Judah Bauer fuelling the fire with seemingly effortless guitar licks and Spencer summoning his characteristic, baritone drawl to great effect. At this point, the crowd begins to realize the quality of what’s to come and the evening takes a turn for the better. The Blues Explosion simply required a little kindling this evening.
What follows is a prime example of why we value generations of charismatic rock frontmen. Jon Spencer exudes the attitude propelled by his music, enthusing the audience with assorted yelps of “Blues Explosion” and joyously hollering that “The blues is back in 2010” to anyone within earshot. Jamming out classics – particularly from the aforementioned Acme and its predecessor Now I Got Worry – standout moments include the groove-heavy Fuck Shit Up and a riotous rendition of Attack. Indeed, the trademark chorus of the latter is worth the price of admission alone.
In truth, however, the whole set (after the sound clears up) is one ongoing celebration of rock ‘n roll and the many genres that inform it. JSBX helped to set the stage for the blues-laden mega acts of today; The White Stripes, The Black Keys, and The Raconteurs to name but a few. Watching Spencer & co. swagger and strut for 90 minutes is the closest many of us will come to experiencing the classic rock bands. But on a dreary wet night in Brooklyn, that’s plenty good enough.