By: Mackenize Lambert
First forming in 1990, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (JSBX) have been performing hard rocking blues with MC5-caliber energy. This particular sound has been affiliated with other acts as The Cramps, Social Distortion, Reverend Horton Heat, Southern Culture on the Skids, and continues to this day with both The White Stripes and Cage the Elephant. On July 30th, the audience in attendance at the Tralf were treated blues punk with a twist of psychobilly.
Opening for JSBX was local Buffalo duo, Sonorous Gale. Their two person line-up immediately brings to mind both White Stripes and Black Keys. Yet, there sound was nothing like either band. Their heavy bass and thunderous drumming recalls Primus or Korn. Aaron Weese’s vocals were a distorted and sometimes incomprehensible. But, isn’t that the point?
The highlight of their brief set was “Shattered Fingers” off their 2009 release Two’s A Crowd. For not having seen them before, they made quite the first impression. They played hard and showed that they didn’t need a guitarist. It’s quite difficult to solo on a bass without sounding awful. Fortunately, Weese exhibited enough discipline to prevent this from happening. Steve Kerfien’s drumwork sounded like a hybrid of David Silveria and Bill Bruford with the hard snare hits and lightning fills.
In between Sonorous Gale and JSBX, the audience grew slightly bigger. In all, I would hazard to guess that there were maybe 60 or 70 people, yet the ovations made it sound as if there were double. I would take this as further evidence that JSBX is still one of the best kept secrets in music, even after 20 years.
When Jon Spencer Blues Explosion took to the stage, you knew it by the ecstatic cheers and Spencer’s shotgun-delivery of “Blues Explosion!” They opened with a jam version of “Flavor” that would make re-appearances throughout the set. Other songs included “Feeling of Love,” “Hell,” “High Gear,” “I Wanna Make It Alright,” “Dang,” and “Bellbottoms.” They had an energy that didn’t quit or lag.
After a small break, they came back for an extended encore that included “2kindsa Love” and “Wail.” It would be the performance of “Wail” that would be my one and only disappointment of the evening. In the middle of it, they stopped in favor of jamming. That would be like Reverend Horton Heat stopping in the middle of “Psychobilly Freakout.” The only redeeming element was Spencer’s use of the Theremin. Yes, you read right. A Theremin, the darling instrument of 1950’s horror/sci-fi movies whihc is prominently featured in “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys.
JSBX showed that their album work doesn’t begin to prepare you for seeing them in concert. Much like KISS, they are better known for their live act than for studio albums. Seeing Spencer invigorate the crowd is like watching a Southern preacher rally his congregation or watching Elvis had he not been constrained by the inhibition of the 1950s. Fellow bandmates Judah Bauer and Russell Simins served as an interesting contrast to Spencer’s extroverted tendencies. They played great but let Spencer have the spotlight.
While the crowd numbers weren’t as strong as they should have been, those that were there were in on something the rest of the city was missing out on. It was a memorable experience for the lucky individuals in attendance. JSBX maintained their cult status despite having music featured in mainstream entertainment like Hot Fuzz, No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, Scream 2, Beavis & Butt-head, and the Wim Wenders’ documentary Soul of a Man.
Mackenzie Lambert is a Buffalo-based columnist. He has been
featured in such publications as Penny Blood and Pantechnicon. He is
also a movie columnist for The Men’s Room Today (www.themensroomtoday.com).