Ter­rell’s Tune-Up

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Steve Ter­rell

Steve Ter­rell is op­ti­mistic about rock in the 21st cen­tury and praises the Jon Spencer Blues Ex­plo­sion and the Son­ics

Noth­ing but blue skies

It’s so easy to get cyn­i­cal about rock ’n’ roll in the 21st cen­tury. In­sert your big­gest com­plaints: No­body pays for mu­sic th­ese days, and we get what we pay for; all our fa­vorite bands are broke while brain­less pop tarts cash in; blah-blah-blah.

But at the risk of sound­ing like Lit­tle Mary Sun­shine, let me tell you some­thing, pal: Th­ese are the good old days. How could any­one be down about the state of rock when, in the past few weeks, two mighty bands have re­leased pow­er­ful al­bums?

I’m talk­ing about the Jon Spencer Blues Ex­plo­sion’s lat­est as­sault, Free­dom Tower: No Wave Dance Party 2015, and This Is the Son­ics, a brand-new record from a band that’s a living blast from the past. Both of th­ese works are scream­ing tes­ti­mo­ni­als to the re­ju­ve­nat­ing power of the mu­sic — and should (but won’t) put to rest the old tru­ism about rock ’n’ roll be­ing some kind of youth-cul­ture cu­rio. As Spencer shouts in the mid­dle of “Belle­vue Baby,” “Don’t it feel good to be alive!”

Maybe I’m prej­u­diced here be­cause my ears are still ring­ing from see­ing Spencer and his cos­mic combo live in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., just a cou­ple of weeks ago. Though all three band mem­bers have to be push­ing fifty (Spencer first rose to glory fronting the band Pussy Galore in the ’80s), if any­thing, they were wilder and more en­er­getic than they were the first time I saw JSBX live 21 years ago (at the old Sweeney Cen­ter, open­ing for the Breed­ers).

By the early part of this cen­tury, I thought the Blues Ex­plo­sion was ba­si­cally cooked. Af­ter its 2004 al­bum, Dam­age, the group took a lengthy break. Spencer part­nered up with Matt Verta-Ray and formed the root­sier Heavy Trash, which recorded three de­cent, if not earth­shak­ing, al­bums. Then, in late 2012, the Blues Ex­plo­sion — rounded out by gui­tarist Ju­dah Bauer and re­lent­less drum­mer Rus­sell Simins — re­united, as the good lord in­tended it to, re­leas­ing an ex­cel­lent come­back al­bum, Meat + Bone. If any­thing,

Free­dom Tower is even stronger. “Come on, fel­las, we got to pay re­spect!” Spencer bel­lows at the out­set of the first song, “Fu­neral.” I’m not sure what corpse this fu­neral is for, un­less it’s death it­self.

The new al­bum is a lov­ing song cy­cle about the Blues Ex­plo­sion’s home­town, New York City. In some tunes, such as “Betty vs. the NYPD” and “Tales of Old New York: The Rock Box” (where Spencer talks about sneak­ing into CBGB through the back al­ley), the band in­dulges in a lit­tle well-earned nos­tal­gia about the sleazy, crime-rid­den era of the ’70s and ’80s, those gritty days when punk rock, hip-hop, and, yes, “No Wave” were born.

Ah, good old No Wave. I heard echoes of that dur­ing JSBX’s live show, and you can hear traces of it on this al­bum as well. For the unini­ti­ated, No Wave is a post-punk, anti-com­mer­cial blend­ing of loud punk, avant-garde noise, free-form jazz, per­for­mance art, and more. No Wave “stars” in­cluded bands like Sui­cide, James Chance & the Con­tor­tions, and Teenage Je­sus and the Jerks. Sonic Youth rose from New York’s No Wave scene. And Spencer’s Pussy Galore was in­spired by the crazi­ness of it all, though, as I’ve said be­fore, that band was more fartsy than artsy — and that goes triple for the Blues Ex­plo­sion. As Spencer pro­claims in “Down and Out” on the new al­bum, “This is Amer­ica, baby: We ain’t got no class!”

The sub­ti­tle of Spencer’s new al­bum is spot on. Spencer’s real ge­nius is bring­ing the No Wave noise — but with the Blues Ex­plo­sion’s dis­torted blues/soul/garage gui­tar riff to make it funky and even dance­able, in a goony tribal-stomp kind of way.

It’s a trade­mark of JSBX for Spencer to shout “Blues Ex­plo­sion!” for no ap­par­ent rea­son, and he does so in­ter­mit­tently on this al­bum. It’s as if just the thought of play­ing again with Bauer and Simins fills him with un­con­trol­lable joy. And, in fact, fans of the Blues Ex­plo­sion will feel the same way when they lis­ten to Free­dom Tower.

Here’s yet more good news for New Mex­ico fans: The Jon Spencer Blues Ex­plo­sion is sched­uled to play Launch­pad in Al­bu­querque on May 21. Tick­ets are a mere $15 — which is $5 less than what I paid in D.C. Sorry, kids, you have to be twenty-one.

As for the Son­ics, the new al­bum by that crazy lit­tle group from Ta­coma is a true marvel. The core mem­bers — key­boardist Gerry Roslie, gui­tarist Larry Parypa, and sax player Rob Lind — are push­ing seventy.

Their orig­i­nal hey­day was in the mid1960s, when they shook the Pa­cific North­west with songs like “Psy­cho,” “The Witch,” “Strych­nine,” and “He’s Waitin’ ” — a song about Satan. Dur­ing their first in­car­na­tion, they didn’t re­ally gain fame be­yond their na­tive re­gion. But through the years, the Son­ics sound in­spired new gen­er­a­tions of punks and garage rock­ers. I al­ways liked the Son­ics, but I never re­ally drank the strych­nine un­til I saw them live in New Or­leans at a quasi-an­nual mu­sic gath­er­ing called the Pon­derosa Stomp.

This Is the Son­ics shows that the band’s amaz­ing live show is no fluke. Pro­duced by Jim Di­a­mond, a Detroit na­tive who used to be a mem­ber of the Dirt­bombs, the al­bum can stand proudly by the Son­ics’ old ma­te­rial. There are a hand­ful of orig­i­nal tunes, the best be­ing “Bad Betty” and “Livin’ in Chaos,” sung by “new” mem­ber Fred­die Den­nis, a Sonic since 2009 who was with the Kings­men in the ’70s and ’80s. Even their “ecol­ogy” song, “Save the Planet,” avoids most tree-hug­ger clichés. “We’ve got to save the planet! It’s the only one with beer.”

And, like the Son­ics al­bums of yore, there’s a plethora of su­per­charged cover songs, in­clud­ing “I Don’t Need No Doc­tor” (fa­mously recorded by Ray Charles), Bo Did­dley’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover,” and, my fa­vorite in the lineup, “Leav­ing Here,” an early Mo­town song with lyrics by Ed­die Hol­land. Though all th­ese tunes are rec­og­niz­able, they nonethe­less bear the stamp of the Son­ics.

I just hope they keep go­ing into their eight­ies.

Jon Spencer

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.