Nic Howden reviews Jon Spencer
Another kind of blues
“Fuck this orange piece of shit”, Jon Spencer spits into the microphone at the Dome, Tufnell Park. It’s the intro to Trash Can, opening song on last year’s Spencer Sings The Hits LP.
There the line is distorted but on stage it’s loud and clear. Aghast at the politics Stateside, Spencer and his post-Blues Explosion (JSBX) band, the HITmakers’, European tour brought them to London from Rotterdam. And he knows the mess we’re in too.
Sings The Hits is 12 short, razor sharp tracks with distinct Pussy Galore traces. ‘Garage Punk for Now People’ as the press release had it.
There’s a good pinch of humour there as well, referenced by the record cover – a besuited Jon Spencer, gig-worn Silvertone 1476 around his neck, staring down at his green monster right hand. And it’s no nostalgia trip. Despite the impressive catalogue of material and bands behind him, Spencer has the chops and all the restless creativity to keep his rock ‘a’ rolling.
The HITmakers is a perfect foil for the frontman nearly 35 years after he formed Pussy Galore in Washington DC and the 500-capacity Dome is a good place to a see them. It’s no frills, good sightlines and a crisp PA.
Still eschewing a straight-ahead bass player, Spencer’s is the only guitar on stage. So, it’s down to drummer M. Sord, assistant engineer for Boss Hog and JSBX, Bob Bert, drummer for Pussy Galore – and, incidentally, Sonic Youth – who beats what looks like half an engine block with hammers – and fellow New York underground maestro, Quasi frontman Sam Coomes, on synth, to bring a bottom end to the party.
With JSBX’s Bellbottoms the height of fashion post-Baby Driver I was surprised to find room to move. There it was though, mine tucked in behind a handful of hardcore fans throwing fancy shapes.
London audiences are famously responsive but, beyond a couple of tepid cries for Bellbottoms, this one isn’t. “Thank you for your patience,” Spencer quips after resolving a technical hitch, which I translate as ‘WT (very) F’?!?!?
The HITmakers don’t rely on interaction to inspire the show, thankfully. A consummate performer Spencer is the hook, all choppy and urgent riffs. To his left, Coomes’ keyboard wobbles frantically on its stand as the Quasi frontman punches out basslines, as well as handling the vocal on a couple of his own tunes. Behind them, M. Sord, who beats the very shit out of his minimal kit, is further bolstered by Bert’s metallic edge stage right.
It’s the platform for pretty much the whole of Sings The Hits, for reaching across the Spencer songbook via reenergised Pussy Galore, JSBX and Heavy Trash numbers and for an animated interpretation of Syd Barrett’s Vegetable Man.
Spencer is a ball of practiced energy so this is a fast night, only the shortest moments between songs, and it’s motivating. Amid all the fuzzed-up rock ‘n’ roll and the junkyard jargon there’s a clear message. Don’t sit on your hands and watch the world turn to shit.
I got the hits
Man, I got the hits
I got the hits, baby
I got the information
Man, I got that information
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