The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Has Mastered Primal Fun

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Jon Spencer is prolific, taking turns in underground noise-rock and garage acts like Shithaus, Boss Hog and Pussy Galore, among others. He formed Jon Spencer Blues Explosion almost 25 years ago in New York City, and the trio has not lost an energetic step, as its nearly seamless set at the Bluebird Theater in Denver showed last night. 

Dark and dynamic young opener We Are Hex – whose frenetic leader Jilly Weis somehow made the Bluebird’s cramped stage into her own wide stomping ground – provided a good prelude to Blues Explosion’s famously bass-less rave-ups by injecting generous helpings of Karen O. into flashes of the most raw, raucous shades of Samhain and early Danzig. Then, the 49-year-old Spencer, ducking and duck-walking a la David Johansen and Chuck Berry, led his funky garage-rock act (which peaked early with 1994’s classic punk-blues LP Orange and 1996’s more radio-friendly Now I Got Worry) in deftly ramming an hour and a half of music together, Ramones style, before a sweaty fifteen-minute encore. The reappearance was somehow even more driving than what came before, and included “Brenda,” “Blues X Man” and the Beastie Boys-esque fan favorite “Fuck Shit Up,” which had been requested repeatedly from deep in the crowd throughout the show.

It wasn’t always easy to tell one song from another or sometimes, in the case of a sadly shortened “Ditch,” when the next Blues Explosion song had begun. But it was easy to tell how much the trio (Spencer with twangy guitarist Judah Bauer and thumping drummer Russell Simins) enjoys playing together after all these years, still juxtaposing Spencer’s Iggy-meets-James-Brown revival antics with powder-keg rock ‘n’ roll thinner and funkier than the Stooges’ seminal Funhouse, but just as primal.

Spencer’s endearing trademark myopic name-dropping – fitting the term “blues explosion” into every spare second like Ozzy proclaiming “We love you all!” or Wiz Khalifa, early on, reminding listeners his name is Wiz Khalifa – was ubiquitous as ever, along with the diffident Bauer’s occasional Albert King flourishes and Simins’ Muppet-like frenzy. A great drinking game – though one that might end in alcohol poisoning – would be taking a shot every time Spencer said the name of his band during one of its concerts.

Simins (with his sparse one-tom, one-crash setup) was at times as forcefully grooving as John Bonham, as tastefully thrashy as Bill Stevenson and as head-bopping as anything played on Paul’s Boutique. But it was his constant dependability as the possessed Spencer’s home base – his foundation – through enjoyable flashbacks like “Wail” and unrecognizable dance-party sludge, that really impressed.

Spencer, if nothing else, is relentless, a quality that was strangely almost lost even as far back as the 550-capacity Bluebird’s bar but downright palpable up front. Blues Explosion is truly a band best appreciated so close you can see Spencer’s sweat flying around as he commandeers his theramin.

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