I have never got the chance to see Jon Spencer Blues Explosion live, and if I have no reference, the moniker sort of speaks for itself. But when Jon Spencer with his new outfit, Jon Spencer and the Hitmakers, made a stop at the Echo last Saturday, it was time to check out the New York garage rock legend.
Los Angeles trio, The Lamps, opened the night with a gritty sound and fast songs going for the full distortion. Aggressive in a sort of static way, they were sharing lead vocals and building this loud pounding music getting into a rewarding head-banging very fast. In the middle of this loud wall of sound, they had numerous hooks getting into familiar territory and I liked their monochord tone, shearing guitars and strange reverb right away.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has a very large discography, with some albums dating back to 1991, and a hiatus around 2005 during which members worked on numerous different projects. The Hitmakers is Spencer’s new project, an obvious witty mockery of the pop culture, with a lineup including drummer M. Sord, synthesizer player Sam Coomes (of Quasi) and percussionist Bob Bert (of Sonic Youth, Chrome Cranks). The setup on stage right away announced an interesting and edgy sound with plenty of metallic percussions which Jon Spencer sees as a nod to his past with Heavy Trash, his New York rockabilly band, and Pussy Galore, the mid 80s garage rock band, inspired by the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls and named after the character from the James Bond movie Goldfinger… It may already sound colorful – they effectively covered songs by both bands during their set – but Bob Bert was sitting in front of a real trash can and other metallic utensils probably found in an authentic junkyard.
If Spencer has always drawn his influences from blues, garage rock, punk, soul, noise, rhythm & blues and beyond, he and his bandmates recycle pop culture with a sleazy twist and a good sense of humor, and the sound that came out of this quartet was as raw and wild as a new experiment in garage rock, with Spencer’s distorted chainsaw massacre guitar, Bert’s hot metal hits, and Sam Coomes’ psychedelic funky organ. They hit hard, they derailed like a mad train going full speed, and for an hour or so, their funky-bluesy boogie showed us that smooth-easy ride was not on their program. With a distorted guitar, a saw-strident organ, a pounding drum, and metal-scraping beats, they trashed the place with unique sounding tunes, a bit reminiscent of the Cramps sometimes (or any other horror punk band), revamping the sound of proto-punk with more angular guitar riffs and some visible humor…. You can’t go more primitive than a band using a real trash can and junkyard-treasure objects on stage.
They started with the appropriate ‘Do the Trash Can’, and barely stopped between their series of noisy fuzzy songs, while Jon Spencer was half speaking half singing, and throwing each one of his lines like punches in the stomach with a deep-throat yelling once in a while. The result was raw and unexpected with throbbing beats, deep fuzz keys and plenty of ‘ungh’ yelled by a restless Jon Spencer, who actually never stopped leaning back and forth on his guitar. Some of the songs, like ‘Time 2 Be bad’, had a curious funky static punctuated by many ‘ough’ and played like a garage remix of an old James Brown song. However, as abrupt and raw as they were, they were a lot of fun, and the crowd was asking for more after each song. Suddenly, Spencer sounded like a manic Elvis attacked by a Vampire ball organ (‘Ghost’) or like an enraged all-scream daredevil during one of the noisiest of Blues Explosion covers ‘Dang’… On ‘Love Handle’ a slower catwalk over a blues garage, he almost sounded like Sun Kil Moon, screaming phrases in a possessed stream of consciousness. ‘I Got the Hits’ almost started like a Clash riff then swang like an old rock classic, chainsawed halfway to the end.
They came back for an encore and more ‘hits’, played with the same weirdness, the same trashy sleazy DIY attitude, and even a crowd choir during Pussy Galore’s NYC 1999, followed by ‘No Count’… They even threw a Modern Lovers cover (‘Roadrunner’) in the bin, keeping the spirit of pure rock ‘n’ roll alive.
At this point, it was all making sense and the music acted like an unstoppable machine led a tireless man hammering his ‘hits’ with the swag of decades of rock ‘n’ roll while recycling about everything deep down in this trash can.
Do the Trash Can
Just Wanna Die (Pussy Galore)
Time 2 Be Bad
Dang (The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion)
Though Times in Plastic Land (Sam Coomes)
Shirt Jac (The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion)
I Got the Hits
The Loveless (Heavy trash)
Roadrunner (The Modern Lovers)
NYC 1999 (Pussy Galore)
No Count (Pussy Galore)
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