Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s first London concert in five years was delayed while a roadie fiddled with a faulty amplifier. When the show began 45 minutes late it still hadn’t been sorted out: a low hum of feedback in the background sounded like a swarm of bees. The New York trio’s frontman Jon Spencer put a brave face on it. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s called electricity. Invented in America,” he drawled.
JSBX are a good advert for the uses – or misuses – of electricity. Formed in 1990 they play delinquent garage rock, a gutbucket stomp taking in Stax soul, rockabilly, blues, punk and funk. At their best, led by Spencer in unhinged preacherman mode, they whip up an intoxicating revivalist racket: a world where rock ’n’ roll rules, Elvis is king, guitars squeal as if overloaded with voltage and Benjamin Franklin lets out a cry of “Awopbopaloobop” as lightning strikes his kite.
Having drifted apart a few years ago they’re back again with a best-of compilation and a clutch of reissued albums. Spencer – skinny leather trousers, James Brown school of showmanship – was joined by co-guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins. Their songs followed a well-worn groove, Spencer barking out catchphrases like “Get down!” over scuzzy riffs and loosely funky beats. Like their forerunners The Cramps, they’re a cartoon-like band: clever-dumb, obsessively formulaic, supremely entertaining.
It took a while for them to relocate their mojo at Heaven. The sound problems were hardly audible when the trio were bashing away – there’s enough electrical distortion in their songs to make an extra bit unnoticeable – yet the fault clearly unsettled them. It wasn’t until an extra-long encore that they hit their stride. And then sparks flew.
Spencer threw shapes and delivered rapid-fire vocals; songs such as “Bellbottoms” and “Blues X Man” shimmied by with stop-start rhythms and sudden detonations of guitars and drums. They ended with a huge rock ’n’ roll breakdown, Spencer manipulating a theremin, one of the earliest electronic instruments, as Simins thrashed his drum kit and Bauer played savage riffs. The electricity was tangible. ()