By Travis Stull
The quick critique: There was a lot of love in the air at RecordBar Monday night, and not just from the marriage proposal that happened toward the end.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion played to an almost packed house, which might seem less impressive given that the Black Keys recently headlined the Sprint Center. Both bands play fuzzy blues riffs over heavy drumming; both have a knack for great rock melodies; both are lacking a bass player. The telling difference, though, is that the Blues Explosion started this sound 10 years before the Black Keys even existed. (Funny how things works out.)
The Blues Explosion was intensely energetic, and not much air was given between songs. Instead, the well-oiled machine that is guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins would usually play a driving groove while frontman Jon Spencer would be free to entertain as he liked. While it would be really interesting to see what he would do with the performance range an arena could give him, it's probably best to see Spencer play in a more intimate setting.
Spencer has a gimmick. He talks to the crowd much like you would expect a second-rate Elvis impersonator would to a seedy Las Vegas hotel lounge. Lots of drawn-out "Ladies and Gentlemen... " and "Thank you very much!" shout-outs. Because the Blues Explosion music isn't supposed to be taken too seriously, this voice fits right in with the night. He got really close and
personal with the crowd multiple times throughout the set. At one point, he fell into the arms of a man recording the show on his iPad, and took a moment to check the device out. Several times, Spencer would play a theremin, using his whole body to create the sounds.
Many of the songs I recognized weren't played from start to finish. Instead, they would turn up, drop out to give way to a jam, and then maybe the familiar melody would find its way back. If you noticed, you may have been distracted by the time the next hook appeared. They were never far behind each other.
The band played sections of "Flavor," a song that received decent airplay on MTV. This may be in part by guest appearances from Beck and Beastie Boy Mike D. Bauer actually rapped Beck's part of the song during the performance. The band has incorporated a lot of hip-hop beats into their songs, and Simins, a powerhouse drummer with hard and clean beats, reflects that.
During the encore, Spencer pulled out a couple from the audience, and the crowd witnessed a proposal, all while the band was still playing. It came off pretty sweet at first, but I don't think Spencer knew what he was getting into. The couple demonstrated their love in ways that seemed to make the frontman blush and become bewildered. Eventually, they had worn out their welcome and had to be shooed off the stage. It ended the night on a somewhat bizarre note, but the crowd was happily exhausted by the energy coming off the band the rest of the night.
Photo by Travis Stull
The very enamored, newly engaged couple.