Concert review

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion delivers a torrid, gritty take on the blues

Updated: 2013-10-09T22:28:37Z

By TIMOTHY FINN

The Kansas City Star

Monday night’s show at the RecordBar was a revival of sorts. And an exercise in endurance.

The headliner was the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a trio that, for the past 20-plus years (minus a hiatus), has been taking a sledgehammer and a blowtorch to the rudiments of rock ’n’ roll — the blues — and issuing its version at rib-rattling volumes. It made for a night that was visceral and primal: a bare-knuckled bloodletting of rhythms and riffs and grimy vocals that was punishing, arousing and cathartic and bereft of nuance or gloss.

The openers were Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds, a trio led by Kid Congo Powers (Brian Tristan), a charismatic singer/guitarist affiliated with a few other well-known anti-mainstream projects (the Cramps, the Gun Club, Nick Cave). Its 45-minute set of raucous punk-infused country and blues was the ideal warm-up for what followed. Their lively set included the Gun Club’s classic “For the Love of Ivy.”

After a brief break of about 15 minutes, Spencer and his sidekicks Judah Bauer and Russell Simins took the stage and launched into a relentless and volcanic 90-minute hemorrhage of two guitars, drums and vocals, some of which sounded issued from a megaphone or a police scanner. Spencer, 48, is a wiry, sinewy and intense lead singer with a shock of curly black hair and the personality of huckster and a game-show host, though he wastes little time with chit-chat and pandering.

They tore though nearly two dozen songs, though it was often hard to tell when one ended and another began. There’s not a lot of variation in their sound, except for tempos, although some sound like acid-washed Delta blues and others sound closer to various flavors of sleazy rock-blues (a fine disctinction). And as high as the volume was, and as affected as Spencer’s vocals were at times, lyrics were hard to pick out. The set included “Get Your Pants Off,” from “Meat + Bone,” the trio’s latest album; “I Wanna Make It All Right” from the “Chicken Dog” from “How I Got Worry”; and a cover of the Beastie Boys’ “She’s On It.”

The show drew a healthy crowd for a Monday night — more than 175, it appeared — and most stayed until it ended a stroke or two before midnight. Spencer and the Blues Explosion took a hiatus of nearly five years that started back in 2007, but its heydays were back in the mid-1990s, before bands like the White Stripes and Black Keys started their own austere blues revivals. This show was the first chance in more than a decade that some of its long-time fans to catch the Explosion live. Things haven’t changed much. With plenty of energy and might, they’re still delivering a sound that is as molten and invigorating as it is seminal and durable.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to tfinn@kcstar.com.

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