The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – NME: Water Rats [Review] (PRESS, UK)

25 July 1998 NME #30
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - NME: Water Rats [Review] (PRESS, UK)
NME review of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion live at London Kings Cross Water Rats, 328 Gray’s Inn Road, London, WC1X 8BZ on 7 July 1998.

Photo: Roger Sargent

“That’s the sweat of the Blues Explosion. Right there, gilded on Jon Spencer’s face like Pierre Et Gilles glitter explosion, shining through his silver shirt like a foil waterfall. And when even a band’s sweat is a hyper-real adornment, you just know you’ll have to find the blood-and-tears bit elsewhere.

For all the claims that they’re shaking the bones of rock’n’roll in a groovily postmodern yet filthily physical way, tonight’s close encounter highlights the fact that Jon Spencer, Judah Bauer and Russell Simins are an NYC boy band who have the lip and the schtick to make authenticity into an ornament. They drag out every hoary rock ornament. The riff, the howl, the sweat – and polish them up. B*Cliched, maybe. B*Damned, certainly.

Stuck in a club that can’t contain their self-belief, let alone an audience, it’s gratifying that a band synonymous with scuzzy Americana are kept waiting until the football finishes, a game they probably see on a barbaric par with public hangings. It also means that by the time the band appear, they’re as ready for it as their disciples.

So that’s ‘it’ as in 4th-nothing of eyelashes and ego, a pretty, vacant guitarist playing like he’s channelling spirits and a drummer who’d probably prefer to be stealing sandwiches from nerds, out to use your inner ear as a harmonica and your ribcage as a snare drum. “Happy New Year – it’s 1998,” snarls Spencer helpfully, given that little has changed in their world.

New song ‘I Wanna Make It All Right’ and baby, you know they could – sharks through the fug with Jaws-like intent, but this close-up they look sillier than ever, a warped reflection in the back of a spoon. It’s not – thank the Lord – that they’re a joke band, although the jokes they have are just fine: Spencer ricocheting backwards like his guitar has just made a grab for his groin, the ungainly Theremin squalls, the bourbon-flavoured adrenalin hit of ‘Afro’, the splendidly stupid ‘Sweat’ with nothing in its head but some cool 45s and a bottle of beer. In fact, they’re essential. Without this dumb punk attitude, the Blues Explosion would be as musically thrilling as a rusk, edgiing – horrible thought – into the blues roughage of, say, Reef. “Ah’m not a mailman/Ah’m not a garbageman/Ah’m a BLUES EXPLOSION MAN!” crows Spencer. No-one is shocked.

Beyond the joke, though, they’re more a trick band, a sleight-of-hand band. This music is Jon Spencer’s plastic surgery, his flase beard, his fake passport to escape his existence as a short middle-class American and live the life. And because that’s a life lived by approximately nine people in the world today – Jerry Lee Lewis, RL Burnside, the odd Delta bluesman so obscure their fourth wife can’t remember their name – he lets us get in his suitcase and travel with him.

Which is why, when they give us some hell, we just smile and take it any way they want.

Sweat it out.

Victoria Segal”