Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
with Andre Williams and the Countdowns
Echo Lounge, Atlanta • January 16, 1999
Anyone that thinks Jon Spencer, a white boy from New York City, isn’t entitled to sing the blues, can kiss my ass. R.L. Burnside and Andre Williams, two gentlemen whose credentials can’t be questioned, seem to agree. And on a recent Saturday night, when the temperature inside rose as fast as the temp outside was dropping, he proved us right. Jon Spencer turned a sold-out Echo Lounge into a tent revival, and saved our miserable souls.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (JSBX) has brought the roots of the blues to a new audience. I’m not talking about the watered-down crap you might hear on a Dockers commercial; I mean Mississippi Delta blues, sharecropper blues, gutbucket gospel, snake-handling tunes. Spencer has a history of collaborating with under-recognized musicians like R.L. Burnside (the Mississippi guitarist with whom JSBX recorded “A Ass Pocket of Whiskey”), as well as hipster superstars like Steve Albini, merging the influences to create sound that’s not really innovative, but not quite derivative. He mixes the old and the new, shakes it around, and it works.
Opening the show was the Countdowns, a three-piece out of Los Angeles (you can pick up their debut LP, The Right On Sound, on Scooch Pooch). Consider them a sort of punk rock George Thorogood, reviving and ripping through R & B the way Social Distortion does C & W. After a handful of their own songs, they were joined by Andre “Mr. Rhythm” Williams from Chicago.
Williams contributed to the most recent Explosion record, “Acme.” He’s been recording since 1955, but is most famous for writing “Shake a Tail Feather” (go rent Hairspray if you don’t know the song I mean); to see him play it, there’s no doubt that he’s not singing about chickens. The blues are about sex, at least the way Andre sings it – at age 63, he still seems to have a healthy interest, and the energy to follow through. The audience response at this show proves that, forty years down the road, he’s still got it, and we still get it.
There were more people in this club than I thought possible, and when JSBX exploded onto the stage, the energy level kicked way, way up. A three-piece (two guitars and drums), rooted in the blues, but borrowing from many different eras – the gut-busting heartfelt howls of the bluesmen of the ’40s & ’50s, the flash and glitter of Mark Bolan, the trashy dirt of the New York Dolls, and the energy of straight-ahead rock. Jumping around the stage, dropping to his knees, dripping sweat and flailing his guitar at the crowd, Jon and his band ripped through old and new songs; “Afro,” “Fuck Shit Up,” and “Out of Luck” from their back catalog, and “Attack” and “Talk About the Blues” from Acme were the standouts.
With his movie-star good looks, Jon had girls pressed up to the front, watching his every move. And with his growling voice, driving energy, and the power of the blues, he had everyone else eating out of the palm of his hand. The place had the feel of a gospel tent revival, except the friendly organist had been replaced by Satan, and all the church-goers were on speed.
Acme (their fifth record) also has contributions by members or associates of Atari Teenage Riot, Cypress Hill, Big Star, and Public Enemy. It’s cleaner and more high-tech than past releases, updating their sound a bit. Check the record for a taste of it, but catch the band live for a real blues explosion. ◼