Home Run HITmakers: Jon Spencer at Rough Trade NYC "burning and burning, a roman candle exploding like golden spiders across the stars."
BROOKLYN, NY- The subzero wind chill outside was no match for the crackling energy inside Rough Trade as New Yorkers packed the room to capacity for Jon Spencer, who has for decades been creating genre-transgressing, riff-laden, blues-referencing garage rock — music that made him an underground legend and paved the way for the likes Jack White and the Black Keys.
The New York Times refers to Spencer and Cristina Martinez, who are partners both in music and in life, as the long-reigning duke and duchess of the downtown music scene. And it’s for good reason: the depth of Mr. Spencer’s catalog and breadth of his reach were apparent on Thursday night as fans shed winter layers to reveal T-shirts emblazoned “JSBX” –- Jon Spencer Blues Explosion -– and quizzed each other on Pussy Galore, Heavy Trash, and Boss Hog.
Spencer Sings the Hits! (In the Red Records), released last November, is a tongue-in-cheek title. These aren’t takes on earlier songs; rather, they’re twelve new originals packed into a lean and lithe 32-minute album. And while it’s billed as Mr. Spencer’s first solo project, trusted collaborators join him on the record: Sam Coomes of Quasi and Heatmiser on keys (Mr. Spencer has “always been a fan of [Sam’s] wild keyboard style and twisted tunesmith-ery“); and drummer M. Sord (Mike Gard), who has worked on Boss Hog and JSBX records. The three decamped to Benton Harbor, Michigan, to the studio of Bill Skibbe (The Kills, Wild Belle, The Black Keys).
That clanging metallic percussion you hear on these tracks? The vehicle of that sound is, quite literally, a vehicle–or more precisely, the gas tank of an old Chevy that Mr. Spencer located after rummaging through a junkyard, whose owner “kept asking [Spencer] if the metal was for a school project, but as a bluegrass player[,] could understand the possible use for a recording session.”
These songs carry forward the howling energy of JSBX and reclaim center stage for the kind of screws-loose, alleyway trash-can pounding zeal that recalls Pussy Galore. From slinky one-note guitar lines to squelchy synths to the hammer-wielding wizardry of touring band member Bob Bert (Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore), this is an album that delivers strut and punk subversiveness. “Fuck this orange piece of shit,” he growls in the intro to “Do the Trash Can” — an indictment of our unhinged Tweeter-in-Chief. It’s a welcome directness (contrast, for example, Maroon 5’s milquetoast evasiveness when asked about the decision to perform in light of the protests of Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players).
Trash is a trope in this album, and don’t mistake it for kitsch. The latter is about replicability and consumerism, the racks of identically pre-ripped jeans and de-fanged pop; trash, on the other hand, is about sifting through and re-assembling detritus, as much archaeology as it is creation. For instance, when Mr. Spencer spits out the charge “your shit is fake,” he sounds part-Beatnik poet, part-street-corner evangelist decrying the second coming of counterfeit culture. It doesn’t register as angst or bitterness, though, either in the songs or on stage — rather, it’s a reference back to the roots of the DIY punk scene and an urging to do better — make it raw, make it ragged, make it real — after all, “ironic distance just reinforces convention.” No more “playing with a butter knife,” as Mr. Spencer challenges in “Beetle Boots.”
When you watch him perform, it’s hard to imagine Mr. Spencer is past the half-century mark — he’s rock-star lean with a thick shock of dark hair (the obsidian gleam is sweat — the man runs on all eight cylinders). Deep into a muscular set, he’s still all angular kinetics, head thrown back, climbing on top of the amps before leaping off, dropping to his knees to howl out some verses. I was reminded of Jack Kerouac’s classic line about the people who are like fireworks–burning and burning, a roman candle exploding like golden spiders across the stars.
This is the original-recipe cocktail of garage punk and industrial blues grit. I’ll take another one, bartender.
Saturday 23 February 2019
The Echo, Los Angeles, CA, US
Sunday 24 February 2019
Slim’s, San Francisco, CA, US
Tuesday 26 February 2019
The Crocodile, Seattle, WA, US
Wednesday 27 February 2019
Dante’s, Portland, OR, US
Tuesday 30 April 2019
106, Rouen, France
Wednesday 01 May 2019
Festival Site, Lessines, Belgium
Thursday 02 May 2019
Cactus Club, Bruges, Belgium
Monday 06 May 2019
Kulturzentrum Schlachthof, Wiesbaden, Germany
Tuesday 07 May 2019
Club Manufaktur, Schorndorf, Germany
Wednesday 08 May 2019
Beatpol, Dresden, Germany
Thursday 09 May 2019
UT Connewitz, Leipzig, Germany
Friday 10 May 2019
Forum Bielefeld, Bielefeld, Germany
Saturday 11 May 2019
Molotow, Hamburg, Germany
Sunday 12 May 2019
Musik & Frieden, Berlin, Germany
Monday 13 May 2019
Feierwerk / Kranhalle, Munich, Germany
Tuesday 14 May 2019
La Poudrière, Belfort, France
Wednesday 15 May 2019
La Coopérative De Mai – Petite Coopé, Clermont-Ferrand, France
Thursday 16 May 2019
La Belle Electrique, Grenoble, France
Saturday 18 May 2019
L’Aéronef, Lille, France