|17 December 1996||The New York Times||–|
|Review of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion live at The Roxy, New York City, NY, US with Atari Teenage Riot on 14 December 1996.|
|The New York Times
Giving Voice to Testosterone, With Id Rampant
By Jon Pareles
Dec. 17, 1996
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion isn’t about the blues. It’s about energy: frantic, headlong, jump-out-of-your skin energy, testosterone hopped up on anarchy. The singer wants love, and he wants to shake things up. “When I say ‘Come on!’ I mean, ‘Come ON!'” Mr. Spencer proclaimed when the band played at the Roxy on Saturday night.
Since the 1950’s, the musical idiom for those impulses has been rockabilly, which lifted blues licks from black musicians and reimagined them as catalysts for going berserk. Over time, rockabilly has come to seem tamer, so the Blues Explosion recharges it for the hip-hop era. Mr. Spencer’s singing voice is a rockabilly burlesque: the Big Bopper’s rampant id. And Like the M.C. of an old rhythm-and-blues revue, he announced “the Blues Explosion!” in nearly every song. But the parody has taken on a life of its own.
With just two guitars (Mr. Spencer and Judah Bauer) and drums (Russell Simins), the trio plays rangy, primitivist riffs, not 12-bar blues structures, and it shifts from twangs to power chords as abruptly as an edit in a hip hop track. Mr. Simins’s drumming pounds and sputters, as choppy as funk; the guitars share or collide on the rhythm, and now and then Mr. Spencer plays a jabbing Keith Richards-style lead. The songs matter less than the dynamics: the crescendos, the outbursts and sudden hushes, the howls and bent notes. Late in the set, Mr. Spencer unleashed a theremin, with its swooping high notes. The dignity and multilevel ironies of the blues were faraway; this was pure rowdiness, seeking its own form and knocking it around.
Atari Teen-Age Riot, a band from Berlin that opened the show, also aimed for pandemonium and frenzy. As leaders of a German rock movement called digital hardcore (which is also the name of its publishing company), Atari Teen-Age Riot has traded punk-rock guitars for keyboards, setting its rants to sped-up drum machines, squealing synthesizers and densely layered samples of anything from noise to power chords. Its lyrics are shouted slogans carrying the same messages as standard hardcore: don’t conform, mistrust the media, unite and fight. And it owes a lot to older discord-mongers like Public Image Ltd. and especially Public Enemy; its slower songs were like sequels to Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe the Hype.” But its faster ones, at techno tempos, combined floor-rumbling rhythms, distortion at every level, salvos of fast drumbeats and sudden stops and interruptions, bristling
Atari Teen-Age Riot may despise media but not marketing. While the four band members were illuminated only by strobe footlights, the band’s name on a banner behind it was always visible.