BY BEN CURNETT
There are only a few people in this world you should ever refer to as “cats.” And if you’ve correctly identified a person as someone who could properly handle that moniker, half of getting this “cat” usage semantically correct still depends on you, the source. Do you even possess the provenance to declare someone a cat?
I’m not sure if I’m that guy, so let that be my disclaimer. Please consider the source when I say that these three cats in the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion put on a show that should not be missed.
Touring in support of their newest (and among their best-ever) record Freedom Tower 2015 Dance Party, JSBX brings everything they have to the performance at Denver’s Bluebird Theatre. It’s a S-H-O-W in all caps, with Jon Spencer presiding as carnival barker, MC, chief entertainer, and all around head get-down honcho for the evening.
What you will witness at this particular JSBX show is a live music version of a Tarantino movie, with other badasses of stage and screen thrown in just because that’s really the only way you can capture the band’s stage presence. If Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was a movie character, it would be some mixture of Omar Little, Travis Bickle, and Sonny Corleone.
Openers were Third Man Records recording artists We Are Hex, who were noisy, sleazy, and would have totally held their own were it not for the giant entertainment spectacle to come. Heavy drums backed up some schizo-infused lyrics from singer Jilly (they only use their first names), screamed out in a way that creeps me out in kind of the same way abandoned doll heads do. Droning feedback guitar and bass plastered the whole set together into a genre I’m calling Grease-Trap-Performance-Doom. Good stuff.
When JSBX took the stage, two things became immediately apparent: first, Jon Spencer is not a man who is afraid to put the vocals first. The mic was a good 3 to 4 volumes louder than the drums and guitars and theremin put together. That’s not easy to do considering the whole mix was loud as fuck and crystal clear. The JSBX soundman is a god.
Second, the phrase “Blues Explosion” works like the word “smurf” or the rap-adled “know-what-I’m-sayin’.” It just fits everywhere it should fit, its definition filled entirely by context.
For the next two hours, JSBX entertained the ladies and gentlemen of Denver like few others could. The music was loud, tight, direct, and punctuated by all kinds of space above and below the squealing guitars of Jon and Judah Bauer and the Charlie-Watts-meets-Lenny-Ferraro beats from Russell Simins.
Opening with the second track from the new record, “Wax Dummy” the band set the bar way on up there and kept going higher. Russell Simins screamed in on a fantastic cover of the Dead Boys’ “What Love Is,” and Jon ended/began every tune with some semblance of the words, “Blues explosion! Thank you! Ladies and gentlemen!”
The greatest thing about this fantastic show was all of the spectacular American music I could hear in everything the band played. Call it influence, call it chops, call it theft, the mix brought together the spirits of James Brown, Elvis, The Stooges, Chuck D, Run DMC, junkie-era Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Cramps.
That’s a level of cool achieved by only the coolest of cats.