JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION @ BLUEBIRD THEATER | 6/15/13 Saving one of the most blistering numbers of the show for the end of the set, Jon Spencer and the Blues Explosion cut loose with "Blues X Man." Making his way to the front of the stage amid a squall of sculpted feedback, Spencer offered up a volley of burning asphalt guitar leads, clearly aware that he was playing to a crowd that loved his brand of primitivism. Spencer and the rest of the band -- Judah Bauer and Russell Simins -- never skimped on the energy during the set. By the end of the show, Spencer was dripping with sweat.
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Early in the set, Spencer and company unleashed "Chicken Dog" and its "Penetration"-esque riff before Spencer turned it into some kind of demonic Little Richard song if that flamboyant piano man had played guitar and anticipated Hendrix's "Machine Gun" by a decade and a half, with the help of Ike Turner's guitar rig circa "Rocket 88" or Link Wray. The biting, barely controlled distortion was channeled perfectly into short eruptions of sound.
The cover of "What Love Is" by Rocket From the Tombs, with Simins doing the lead vocals from behind the drum, felt truly dangerous and free flowing with white-hot energy. Playing music from across the breadth of its career, the band also proved it isn't limited to a narrow range of core musical ideas. This became readily apparent at the end of the set when Spencer sat down at his delay pedals and created the kind of pulsing, shifting drones you usually hear in some kind of more overtly experimental guitar band, and, later, he sculpted a very low end cycling pulse with the same that was completely different from the other use of delay feedback.
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In a songwriting sense, when the band came back for an encore and performed "Magical Colors," it was just as impressive a display of a different set of melodic sounds, as well as a showcase for how well Spencer can sing falsetto and intersperse deep vocalizations in his singing. It was like seeing Lux Interior jump all over a range of tones or even Björk -- the ability to be truly creative with the voice and do something nearly alien. It was unsettling at times, but it was also undeniably powerful and compelling.
At the end of the night, Spencer thanked the audience with clear gratitude in his voice because the band hadn't been to Denver in a long time and the people didn't skimp in their own energy and enthusiasm for the band either. All in all, the whole thing was an edgy, celebratory and life-affirming experience that proved that blues rock need not be the butt of jokes referencing Blues Hammer. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was so much the opposite of that, it was practically in another universe.
Earlier in the evening, things got kicked off with the GEDs from Denver playing one of its best songs, "Burnt City." The band may have seemed like an odd fit for the bill, but the raw rock and roll sound and Chanin Floyd's expansive and melodic yet aggressive vocals drew you in immediately. This version of the GEDS was a four-piece lineup with a guitar player to play along with Tim Beckman's strong leads. Beckman danced throughout and moved about with the buoyant energy of the band.
It had been a while since most of us have been able to see these guys and hearing the headlong yet moody "Bring Me Down" live, as well as "Modern World," was a welcome treat, as was a spot on cover of the Jesus and Mary Chain's "The Living End." Hopefully the GEDs will put out a new album -- so we don't have to track down Mike Jourgensen compilations to find their music or the first Radio 1190 Local Shakedown compilation for "Burnt City" -- and more importantly, hopefully this wasn't a one-off.
Personal Bias: The last time I saw the Blues Explosion, I wasn't into the show at all. But I kept hearing the records in different places and ended up asking who it was because I thought it was cool, and it turned out to be the Blues Explosion. This show completely transformed my opinion of the live show for the better.
Random Detail: Ran into Abe Brennan of Joy Subtraction at the show.
By the Way: There were excellent T-shirt designs at the merch booth, plus a lot of vinyl that you don't see everywhere. Sure you could probably order it online, but what's the fun in that?
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