Live Review: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg (7/18)

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“Do you remember the 1990s?” Jon Spencer snarls midway through “Bag of Bones”, the supercharged second track from his latest album, 2012’s Meat + Bone. Given that it’s the Explosion’s first LP following an eight-year gap, it’s easy enough to twist that line into a punchline or snark: “Well, of course he remembers the ‘90s — he’s living in them.” But then comes “Do you remember the 1980s?” and “Do you remember the 1970s?” and you realize: despite its 1991 genesis, the Jon Spencer Blues was never really attached to any era outside of the literal sense. Nor was the band ever associated with a wider garage-rock revival movement, the way the White Stripes and the Strokes were. “Bag of Bones” sounds like it could have been recorded in 2012 or 1992 or 1979, because not all rock comebacks need to be reinventions. Having revved to life last year after an eight-year absence, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is simply resuming where it left off.

On Thursday night, as the band emerged with a stench of pot smoke at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg, I reveled in the band’s strange timelessness. Clad in black boots, tight leather trousers, and a striped vest — and already drenched in sweat — the dark-haired blues singer clutched his guitar and looked like he could have performed alongside Iggy and Bowie in the glam era, or have been a relic from a hair metal outfit. But the music summoned influences that precede both. Without a word to the crowd, Spencer plugged into his vintage amps and — nodding to his bandmates, guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins — launched into Extra Width’s blistering “Soul Typecast”, a track that dates back to the trio’s days opening for the Jesus Lizard. Between the crackling tube amps and Simins’ drums, which have always bared a subtle hip hop influence, the band closely mimicked the pounding blues-punk textures of its recordings. You had to wonder what Spencer was doing during those several (mostly) inactive years, given the unbridled joy he took in stalking the stage and coaxing noise out of his amp.

First, though, credit is due opening act We Are Hex, an Indiana-based noise-rock quintet who managed to summon the sweat and vinegar to warrant JSBX’s opening slot. Vocalist Jill Weiss yelped and screamed like Corin Tucker 20 years younger, finding herself out of breath in between tracks, but the group’s secret weapon turned out to be its guitarist’s surprisingly dense arsenal of feedback effects — which runs from rhythmic bleating (“Birthplace of the Mystics”) to more melodic wah-wah textures (“Lewd Nudie Animals”).

It’s difficult to document a Blues Explosion show with great precision. The band shies away from determined setlists, and anyway, it all blends into a continuous blues-filth racket. Not that that’s such a bad thing. Naturally, cuts from Meat + Bone — “Black Mold”, “Bottle Baby” — fit seamlessly with the band’s classic era. 1994′s Orange was in particularly high supply: the band railed through “Dang” at double-speed, then stretched their groove muscles on “Bellbottoms” and the aptly named “Sweat” (“That’s the sweat! Of the Blues Explosion!” indeed). There were covers, too — of Dead Boys’ “What Love Is”, which found Simins taking the lead on vocals, and of James Brown’s “Tell Me That You Love Me”, during which Spencer swaggered towards the audience and babbled like a wound up auctioneer.

Towards the end of his band’s unrelenting 70-minute-or-so set, Spencer leaned out over the crowd, clutched at his microphone, and began ranting — mid-song, and somewhat incomprehensibly — about the heat and whether or not New York would see a hotter day all summer. Sweat beads formed, fittingly, on his face, dripping down onto lucky members of the front row. “Are we gonna wait until November and another hurricane hits?” Spencer demanded. “No, we’re gonna do it now,” “it” apparently referring to “the Blues Explosion,” like doing the hustle or doing the jitterbug. After that eight-year vacation,  now seemed as good a time as any.

But despite his unabashed rockstar-isms, Spencer still seemed humbled by the audience’s cheers. “Thank you very much, everyone, that feels very nice,” he blushed. Then: “We’ve got time for a couple more. I think we’re gonna play the blues” — because what else?

Note: We were excited at the opportunity to see the band play in Brooklyn, and hear great music at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.  With all the bright, shiny lights, loud music, and dazzling stage routines, audiences sometimes forget that a musician is actually performing during a concert. Professional artists make singing and dancing across the stage seem effortless and easy. But, in reality, the musicians performing in the limelight are really working hard to entertain us. Since 2005, a photographer and a journalist have been developing a photographic project to captured the sweaty and exhausted backstage moments of famous musicians, scenes that regular audiences don’t generally get to witness. About 100 bands have participated, and their excitement is evident when they all agree: “That’s the only way to show who we really are.”   We hope to bring some of those images here to share them with you.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse cancel European tour due to injury


Neil Young and Crazy Horse have canceled the remainder of their European tour, including festival appearances at Sweden’s Way Out West and Belgium’s Pukkelpop, after guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro broke his hand, reports Rolling Stone.

Sampedro is expected to make a full recovery in time for the band’s North American tour, which kicks off August 31st in Ontario and concludes September 7th with an appearance at Interlocken Music Festival in Arrington, Virginia.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse 2013 Tour Dates:
08/08 – Gothenburg, SE @ Way Out West
08/10 – Bergen, NO @ Berghenhus Festning
08/12 – Copenhagen, DK @ Forum
08/14 – Dresden, NO @ Filmnaeechte Am Elbufer
08/16 – Hasselt, BE @ Pukkelpop
08/18 – Liverpool, UK @ Echo Arena
08/19 – London, UK @ O2 Arena
08/31 – Dundas, ON @ Greenbelt Harvest Picnic
09/02 – Port Chester, NY @ Capitol Theatrea
09/04 – Ottawa, ON @ Ottawa Folk Festival
09/07 – Arrington, VA @ Interlocken Music Festival
09/21 – Saratoga Springs, VA @ Farm Aid
10/26-27 – Mountain View, VA @ Bridge School Benefit

Five Great Albums That Got Scrapped – Ask A Record Label


With reports last month that Beyonce had scrapped 50 songs to start over completely on jer album, I got to wondering what kind of perfectionist Queen Bey must be. I mean, it says something that she couldn’t sift a good album out of 50 tracks from today’s hottest producers. For artists with lower standards, there were probably four or five great albums in there.

Still, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time an artist had scrapped a great album in the pursuit of a masterpiece. In fact, we’ve even heard some of them years later, like these five.


5. The Misfits, Static Age
How could a collection of some of the greatest punk songs of all time, and an album that paved the way for hardcore punk in general, get scrapped? Blame the labels, who had no interest in this type of music when the Misfits laid it to vinyl in 1978. Instead, most of the tracks ended up being released on seven-inches throughout the band’s brief career.

The album was finally released in its full, official version in 1997, and it is, of course, amazing. It plays like a greatest-hits all the way through. Who knows what record execs could have possibly been thinking by rejecting this one.


4. Prince, The Black Album
In 1987, the world was waiting with bated breath for a new Prince album following his magnum opus, Sign o’ the Times. Advertisements teased something called The Funk Bible, and there were promises Prince was going to be returning to his funk roots. Then the album disappeared without a trace, and the decidedly not-funky-at-all Lovesexy came out in 1988. What happened to the missing album?

Rumor has it that Prince flipped his wig on ecstasy around the time and decided that the album was evil. However, some years later, during his much-publicized battle with Warner Bros., the Artist finally conceded to The Funk Bible‘s release as The Black Album in 1994.

Almost everybody had it as a bootleg by then though, so it met with little fanfare. Shame, because it’s definitely a funk album through and through, and one of Prince’s hardest-hitting and most satisfying efforts.


3. David Bowie, Toy
David Bowie’s early career was a pretty mixed affair, at least before Hunky Dory. It has its proponents, but by and large “The Man Who Sold the World” and “Space Oddity” are the most significant things to come from the era. That didn’t mean the songs were bad, though; it just meant they were rough, or Bowie wasn’t experienced enough to bring out their full potential.

Enter Toy, recorded in 2001 by a much older Bowie and featuring re-recordings and revamps of many songs from his very early career. It could have been a way to reintroduce Bowie’s fans to these songs’ true potential, but it ended up being shelved by his record label EMI because they couldn’t figure out a good time to release it.

It finally leaked in 2011, and it’s a pretty good second look at these songs, filtered through the lens of a wiser, older Bowie.


Neil Young, Homegrown and Chrome Dreams
Being one of the most prolific artists of the ’70s had its ups and downs. For Neil Young, it meant an exceptional creative period, one that couldn’t even be contained to his released albums. As incomprehensible as it may seem, Young had so much great material recorded at any given time that he could simply throw out an album at the last minute and release a different one.

It happened twice for him, first with 1975’s Homegrown and then again with 1977’s Chrome Dreams. Both have grown massive legacies since due to bootlegging and fan-assembled versions culled from live recordings and confirmed tracklists of the records. Though neither has ever been released officially, both have come to be regarded as some of Young’s best work of the ’70s.


1. Jimi Hendrix, Black Gold
It’s a small stretch to say that the album Jimi Hendrix recorded just before his untimely death, Black Gold, which has never been released or heard by anyone outside of close friends and family, is a great album. But seriously, are you going to doubt that it was a classic in the making?

I submit the evidence of “Machine Gun,” a track that ended up appearing live on his Band of Gypsys album and apparently has a studio version on Black Gold, as proof of how badass this album is. I mean, when that’s your starting point, you know you’re dealing with a seriously awesome rock record. Unfortunately, its been over 40 years and Hendrix has seen plenty of posthumous releases, but no Black Gold in its entirety as of yet.