The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Esplanade Hotel [Review] (PRESS, AUSTRALIA)

16 January 2011
NOTES: posted a review and photo gallery from of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion show at The Esplanade Hotel, Melbourne on 14 January 2011.

Photos: Mary Boukouvalas / Text: Sharon Brookes


Despite the almost unbearable humidity that lingered after an uncomfortably warm day, a full house packed the Espy’s front bar on this particular night. I arrived just as the all-girl group Beaches began playing their set and somehow managed to position myself at the front behind one of the speakers. That was a bad move. I have no idea whether it was my proximity to the noise or whether the band members were weary from the tropical atmosphere, but the lyrics sounded like one long mumble. The girls sang to the floor, and while I am no tech head, I thought that they just never really got the sound levels right. Having spit out what could be seen as a diatribe against this band, I should say that there were punters who were delighted with the set and listened rapturously as the girls pumped out “Free way”, “Eternal Sphere” and “New Knowledge”. Their indie and alternative rock style was a logical choice to complement the night’s entertainment offerings, and it’s disappointing that the set just didn’t sound crisp.

At ‘the witching hour’ John Spencer Blues Explosion took the stage in what felt (and was) an intimate affair. It’s tough to believe that such legends of the industry were here, at a touchable distance, playing at the Espy. It was at this time that I made my second bad move. It was so hot that I just had to get a drink. The crowd had surged forward and were dancing animatedly despite having only a few inches of space each, but somehow I made it to the bar… with the trouble being that I couldn’t make it back to my posse, and ended up wearing my drink. For most of the gig I stood behind the band watching their impressive arses sway to the music. So you must be aware that my whole perspective of the night is somewhat skewed and I have become a JSBX arse expert.

JSBX are touring, not to support new material, but to revisit the songs that made them famous. In 2010 they released an album of best of’s which, in effect, has taken the band back to its roots and given many of us the opportunity to listen anew to songs like “Bellbottoms”, “Afro” and “2kindsa Love” which are still sounding pretty bloody good. It is a legendary group that can reinvent themselves using old material, but JSBX have and are doing just that. At a guess I would say that many of the punters were only just born when the band formed in ’91, so it was brilliant to note the number of age groups represented.

Unlike during the Melbourne leg of their tour in ’97, Jon Spencer didn’t run through the crowd or jump on tables, but still managed to connect with the punters with between song quips and the generosity of his (and the band’s) performance. The set was 1 ½ hours long. This might be fairly standard, but I saw the guys climb off the stage half way and wondered how they’d play anymore. They looked totally knackered from the heat; especially Russell Simins (drums) who looked like he’d stepped from the shower without towelling off and doesn’t appear to be too fit right now. Still, after a brief refreshment break the guys reappeared and figuratively ‘tore the place apart’. I respected JSBX before this gig, but my initial respect trebled during the night, and by the end of the gig I realised that I had witnessed one of the best shows I’ve seen, performed by three humble guys who have more talent than most of us could ever hope for.