“We’re real students of rock 'n' roll history, blues, rhythm and blues and country and western music,” Jon Spencer said.
He was speaking by telephone from an apartment in New York City about his Blues Explosion band that includes guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins. They’ve been tightening wigs since 1991 and will be bringing their volatile performance to Norman Sunday.
“We were record geeks and great fans before deciding to make our own music and at the heart of it what we really are is a garage band,” Spencer said. “But we’ve always tried to do our heroes proud.”
What they’ve done over the decades is produce a ferocious permutation of blues-steeped rock that’s remarkable for its unruly intensity. Blues Explosion has sharpened the genre’s dangerous roots with a whetstone that’s part science fiction-horror vibe and part triumphant exultation.
“We’ve never has any problem with show business or putting on a show,” Spencer said. “James Brown is a great inspiration to us. We haven’t tried to copy what he did but we’ve taken something from him and filtered it through who we are.”
They are a trio who want to put on a high energy show and if they mess with your head in the process that’s part of the bargain. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is the opposite of a shoe gaze combo. Spencer invariably shouts his band’s name several times between and even during songs in their live sets. He wants no mistakes made about who they are and that they’re on a mission to entertain you.
“We’re plugged into American roots music and with that comes the idea of show business,” he said. “Combining the history of rock with something new and not being obvious about it is what we’ve always done. Trying too hard never works.”
Spencer prides the Blues Explosion for being experimental, innovative and fearless risk takers. There’s a punk rock element to their sound that harkens back to the trio’s early individual experiences playing in outfits such as The Spitters, Crowbar Massage and Pussy Galore.
The Blues Explosion’s newest album “Meat and Bone” (Mom and Pop Music 2012) is dripping with untamed energy. It betrays no lessening of passion for their music but instead an increased rock fervor that burns bright and strong.
“We love to play in this band,” Spencer said. “It feels good. If it didn’t I don’t think we’d do it any longer.”
Meat and Bone didn’t benefit from a lavish big record label budget. The trio made it on their own dime and then shopped the finished product around. In 2010 Blues Explosion re-issued most of their previous record catalogue. It was a huge project that spanned over a decade of recordings. That project reinvigorated the band by recalling just how good their music is.
“I’m proud of those records which is why I wanted to put them out again,” he said. “There were also a lot of songs left off the original issues.”
Meat and Bone is essentially about Spencer and his band mates. It’s bears resemblance to a rock 'n' roll show in a club because the songs were recorded as the Blues Explosion played them live on the studio floor. There’s no shortage of lyrical fear and loathing in songs with titles including “Danger,” “Black Thoughts” and “Bear Trap.” Spencer believes there may be something wrong with you if there’s no amount of anxiety, doubt or fear in your life. Real life event Hurricane Irene (2011) contributed to the writing of composition “Black Mold.”
“In some ways it’s a classic, traditional blues song,” Spencer said. “Not in the song structure or the way it sounds but because it’s about bad weather happening. Natural disasters are scary.”
Spencer is an inquisitive guy. He had several questions of his own about Norman, University of Oklahoma, the weather here, the venue where they’ll be playing and if the Flaming Lips are from the area.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been out there, probably more than a decade,” Spencer said. “When I say I’m excited about going back to Norman I’m not bullsh------. Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds are on the bill with us, make sure you tell everyone how good they are, too. It’s going to be a great night.”
If You Go
What: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds in concert.
Where: Opolis, 113 N. Crawford Ave.
When: Sun. Oct. 6, doors open at 8 p.m.
Cost: free, sponsored by Norman’s Fowler Volkswagen dealership (tickets were distributed in advance at Guestroom Record locations.)
Jon Spencer at his last Oklahoma performance in Diamond Ball Room, 2002.