Jon Spencer effort to ferry popular music from Mississippi to new unexplored banks has been going for the last 20 years.
Punk is wrongly considered a movement that destroys more than building, a bourgeois prejudice. Punk does destroy in order to rebuild.
Jon Spencer is not a punk musician on the pure iconographic terms, but he knows what all the stuff is about and knows how to use it.
He started in the 80s, with cult sonic band, Pussy Galore, an outfit which has in its CV a legendary release, a cassette-only recording revisiting the entire Stones’ masterpiece “Exile on a Main Street“. If any readers can point me to somewhere I can listen to it I’d be grateful forever.
His most famous project, the renowned Blues Explosion, began this “architectural” process of deconstructing and rebuilding American popular music, from the blues.
A misleading name. Many rock lovers, the ones who think of Gary Moore’s scholastic solos when the word “blues” appear, ignored the band to rediscover their importance only years later.
Big mistake, Jon Spencer is not a blues musician either, not in the sense of playing pentatonic solos on 12-bars.
The Blues Explosion doesn’t play the blues the way you think at it, but they indeed are a blues act in the “blues’ approach” to life. To get what I mean try listening to RL Burnside album “A ass pocket of whiskey” and you’ll realize how they not only re-discovered this blues legend but recorded this album linking traditional blues to the next millennium. Love it or hate it, you can’t ignore it.
The Blues Explosion radically changed the concept of line-ups. So influential, they have become a reference for all the bluesy-garage acts following. From the White Stripes to The Gossip, from the Black Keys to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs everyone leaving the bass player at home has to credit Jon Spencer for showing that guitar/drums combos are enough to rock the world. Years before Jack White became cool.
With the Blues Explosion on a “rock’n’roll holiday”, Jon Spencer joined pal and rockabilly aficionado Matt Verta-Ray to form this new project, Heavy Trash.
I bumped into them first time 3 years ago in a small Camden venue and the energy coming out of that show reminded me of how imperative is to see Jon Spencer performing live. He is a stage beast, a sweaty rocker that needs to express his energy in front of an audience; whichever band he plays, he’s eager to convince you, with just the power of his strumming and screams, that he is “right, yeah, all right…oh yeah”.
Ghosts of Bo Diddley and Roy Orbison’s melodies coming out the wonderful Verta-Ray vintage Gibson guitar filled the venue, with Jon Spencer on the counterpart to design angular rhythms and harmonies disbanding them. I love when music builds on one side and tear down on the other, it creates the imperfect balance that rock needs to avoid being redundant.
That night I realized he left the blues. Chronologically moving, it was rockabilly next target in (t)his war of love, a war against nostalgia and melancholy, a mission to bring popular music to the future.
Last week, in one of their London appearances, the duo stepped on the 100Club stage, joined by the Sadies. Characterized by a profound, beautiful sound, that reminded me of Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western soundtracks, they give Heavy Trash a robust asset.
I was surprised to see this Canadian foursome with a strong country-rock twist next to the “rockabilly” duo.
Jon Spencer scraped acoustic Gibson leads the ensemble, rockabilly is a bit more in the background, country-era Elvis is clearly coming out, courtesy of Matt Verta-Ray sound, so impressive it deserves to stand out.
If blues was the monumental Explosion effort, Rockabilly the reason behind the formation of Heavy Trash, Memphis Rock’n’roll the passion (and the groove) which stays on the backcloth, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these traveling guys heading towards Nashville, to meet the ghost of Johnny Cash.
On the cover of Heavy Trash second album “On the way out with Heavy Trash”, likely one of the best Spencer’s studio recording, a cartoon represent the two guys, guitars with them, running away from UFO to jump on an old style western train to the next station…will it be Alabama?
Given my unconditional love for them, I do hope Heavy Trash would not extend the Blues Explosion’s holidays indefinitely but, I must admit, they don’t sound a side project but a proper band. A must see live experience.
After two decades of performance over 5 continents, every single gig, even the most inflexible people found themselves dancing.
Check where they are playing [myspace], come on move your ass!
If you want to know more about any Jon Spencer related projects, [pop catastrophe] is one of the best fan website I have ever come across, if it is not here, Jon Spencer didn’t do it!!
After few years shooting concerts it happens you encounter a band again.
Usually I come back either because I am a fan, they have become very big (and the pictures are likely to interest someone) or they are touring a good album which I want to listen to live.
I don’t come back if I found them boring the first time, so don’t expect me to photograph Athlete again!
There are some useful bits of knowing a band’s stage presence in advance. On a “3 songs no flash” rule your main problem is time; predicting things is of help.
Knowing which part of the stage the leader usually is, suggests you where to stand. Being in the right spot is very important especially with no-pit venues where it is difficult to move.
Bands are on stage in the same way most of the times. Expect Manics’ James Dean Bradfield on the left, Nicky Wire on the right, Motorhead’s Lemmy on the right, We are scientist guitarist on the left. I said most, not ALL. I have always seen Jon Spencer on the right, this time he was on the left!
It is useful to know if you are facing an energetic set or a quiet one. It helps knowing the genre they play but it isn’t that automatic.
If you have been there, you know in advance if a band is likely to play in a dark lighting, with strobo or bright lights. Jon Spencer plays quite in the dark, Shellac in daylight conditions. All good information to have.
What if is the first time you are shooting at someone? My suggestion is don’t be shy and snooty, talk to fans, they are bored waiting and will be happy to help you. Ask any question a competition to decide which of them knows more will start. Fans are a source of fantastic tips. You’ll know the most unexpected things.