Words: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion @ El Rey Theatre
Snapshot from dogtownskate’s Instagram
The Blues is inherently a basic format, built on simple, repetitive progressions, so it’s practicants must bring something extra to the genre if they want to distinguish themselves. For the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, it’s always been that last word in their name that sets them apart. An explosion of style (caveman shag hair, clad in black and leather); explosions of noise (two hot guitars handling the top and low ends–no stinking bass needed–some heavily funky drum thumping); and, above all, an explosion of that singular force of nature, Jon Spencer (forever his own hypeman, still narrating his own mythology throughout the night, reminding us early and often between and within songs that this is, in fact, THE BLUES EXPLOSION you are watching, ladies and gentlemen).
Entering their third decade, playing the El Rey last Friday, it’s affirming to see the guys–Judah Bauer (guitar) and Russell Simmons (drum kit) filling out the trinity–still feeling it, still burning hot. The stage curtains parted to have them already in full strum; the Blues will not be contained by mere red velvet. The songs are essentially all similar–Jon shout-talking-singing on top of fuzzy riffs on top of sevenths chords on top of funky rock beats plus one or two tasty jolts from a theremin– yet not any less entertaining for being so because the payoff is all in the payoff. Hitting their new record, Meat and Bone, and their 1994 classic LP Orange heavy and mixing in sprinklings of their Matador back catalog throughout, they went for a shade under two hours. The proceedings might be dialed down a shade from the days of yore, when there was literally some sense of danger in being too close to Jon at the stage’s foot, but the guys work it hard and the show satisfies on it’s own merits, beyond any 90’s college rock nostalgia (which admittedly was prevalent in the air).
There was a window in the mid-Ought’s where JSBX took a little hiatus and even temporarily went by just “Blues Explosion” for a while. One can’t help but wonder if that was their missed moment to push through to the bigger time, with the likes of the White Stripes and The Black Keys, who similarly mined the Blues to big paydays. Or, maybe not: I searched out old reviews of the last time I saw JSBX at the El Rey in 1997, only to find that the Times didn’t even write them up but instead covered Sleater-Kinney’s opening set that night only. (This guy has some great scanned snap shots of JSBX from that show.) So even in their heyday, they were already slipping off the mainstream’s radar. The good news is the Blues are timeless, so there’s plenty of time for people to (re)discover JSBX.