Paul Canton is an astrophysics graduate student at the University of Oklahoma. The 20-something skateboard enthusiast from San Francisco only knew about Jon Spencer Blues Explosion from one music video he’d seen.
“It was a series of spectacular skater crashes and wipe-outs set to Jon Spencer’s music,” he said.
Canton was one of around a hundred people gathered at Opolis micro venue Sunday evening Oct. 6. They were there to witness a rowdy recital by Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds opening for New York’s Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. It would be safe to say Canton was one of the few attendees with limited Blues Explosion exposure due to most of the crowd being noticeably long of tooth. This was no surprise because both Kid Congo aka Brian Tristan and Jon Spencer between them have 56 years of performing experience. Congo has been in several bands besides his current project including notably The Gun Club and The Cramps. Spencer’s Blues Explosion goes back to 1991 and he was in other outfits before that. This evening the merch tables were groaning under dozens of CDs, vinyl LPs and even a 45 rpm record or two from those decades of musicianship. One singular item of merchandise was a white kitchen apron dedicated to Spencer’s latest release titled “Meat and Bone.”
Although the concert was ostensibly “sold out,” the Opolis was far from having a capacity audience. Free tickets courtesy of Fowler VW had been distributed months in advance at Guestroom Record shop locations and they’d all been snapped up in one day. Undoubtedly ticket holders didn’t mark their calendars or, forgetting it was a Sunday night show, failed to make contingencies for Monday morning. Whatever the case, the crowd never grew to much more than a two thirds full room.
Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds guitar and drums quartet took the stage sharing a high school letter sweater wardrobe theme. The letter was “H” so it became obviously apparent after a few zombie ballads they were Team Hades. Congo was also sporting a pair of snow white boots alá Lemmy of Motorhead.
“We have a very serious question,” Congo announced between songs. “What if the killer was Phyllis Diller?”
They played a murky flavor of dirge-like rock that owes about a million bucks to The Cramps. Congo dedicated a song titled “Sue Sue” to cult actress Susan Tyrrell. Her resume included roles in Andy Warhol and John Waters movies. Tyrrell played Ramona Rickettes in Waters’ “Cry Baby” and the High Priestess in “The Devil’s Due at Midnight.” Congo’s music was long on high volume and short on any melody or harmony as you’d expect from apocalyptic swamp slither tunes.
“I have lots of friends who sound like this,” Congo said before performing a selection of conventional adult rock. Their set was a generous hour in length and then Congo came out and handled his own merch table sales, taking in filthy lucre hand over fist.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is a trio with the power of a sextet. Spencer is the consummate rock 'n' roll performer. The audience started cheering the second Spencer entered the room. A camper-type vehicle had been parked behind the venue allowing a private place to hang out before the show and he hadn’t been seen until taking the stage. Spencer never stopped moving during their 90-minute set. Wearing 1970s era flowered shirt, tight vest and tighter leather britches he was quick as an Italian switchblade. Spencer has a menacing stage presence that recalls Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. True to form he hollered “Blues Explosion!” frequently between numbers throughout the show. His audience was pumped. A female fan felt the need to hold up a large Blues Explosion poster, never mind that it was upside down. Spencer’s incendiary delivery coupled with lightning fast segues into new songs was head-spinning.
His stage show bears little resemblance to some of the finer studio recordings such as “Plastic Fang” (Matador Records, 2002). The nuance may be lost, but none of the excitement. Spencer came back for an encore that began with a long intense instrumental passage. That morphed into “She Said,” a song infamous for its music video wherein Spencer in Dracula drag degrades an entire convent of nuns into blood-lust werewolves. With that the Blues Explosion turned us out, just after midnight into the Oklahoma night under a crescent moon.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion laying the whammy on Opolis Oct. 6.