The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Plays a Secret Show at Zirzamin
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion just wrapped up their set at Zirzamin less than an hour ago. This place has become ground zero for secret unnanounced shows by top-shelf rock and jazz acts in New York. Spencer is taping Letterman tomorrow morning and if that appearance is anything like this one, he’ll be schooling every band that’s appeared on that show in the last decade. He’d broken into a sweat before the first song was done and by the end of the show he was drenched, parking his upper lip on the mic and once in awhile practically swallowing the SM57 with a big WHOOOSH. By contrast, guitarist Judah Bauer chewed gum and maintained a deadpan cool that never wavered, even when he broke a string and the band took a brief pause while he changed it.
Spencer’s genius is that he takes old moves that everybody’s heard before and transforms them into something original and exciting. Throughout this show, Bauer and Spencer would fire off bleeding, bluesy upward swipes that sound like they’re straight out of the Stooges catalog except that they’re not stolen. Drummer Russell Simins kept a breakneck pace, turning in a split second from a furious hardcore pulse, to steady funk-infused grooves, to pummeling punk rock, to a handful of soul shuffles. Like a hardcore act, they stopped songs cold and before the crowd could react, they’d dive headlong into another one and then in sometimes less than a couple of minutes they’d jump into the next one. In the intimate space at Houston and LaGuardia, it was like seeing them at the Mercury circa 1996, but better: playing together for the better part of 20 years (hard to believe, huh?) makes you good and tight.
For the most part, they hung with snarling, syncopated minor-key, bluesy riffage, cutting loose a couple of times early on and then toward the end of the set with both guitarists methodically screaming tbeir way up the scale. They’d go toe-to-toe-with raw, jagged lead lines and then back away into roaring noise. Spencer still has the nerve to namecheck himself in a steadily careening 6/8 number that had all the makings of a big, crushing dirge but was over in barely two minutes. One of the highlights was Son of Sam (a Chain Gang cover – thanks for the correction! – not the Dead Boys classic), changing shape in a split second from a wry swing to a hammering bounce. Was the second song Chicken Walk, from the first album way back in 1992? It’s hard to remember without a recording. The show reached a high point with a couple of roaring blasts of oldschool punk rock punctuated with more of those signature snotty, slashing Stoogoid phrases, then the band took it in a funkier direction. Among the crowd – mostly NYC rock royalty from the past couple of decades and their friends – there were at least two people in the front row with their phones out: throw that stuff up on youtube and send a link this way, show the people what they missed! Along with their Letterman appearance, JSBX is playing the Bell House this Sunday the 13th at around 9; tickets are $20 and still available as of today.