Radio-rock, anyone? The Grammy-nominated Tonic will be kicking off an "acoustic tour" this week. How very 1990s retro they are. This better-than-average alt-rock outfit (whatever that may mean these days) is known for their tightness and for having fun on stage, so don't be surprised if they squeeze a tight cover of "Jessie's Girl" in between tight renditions of their hits. How very 1980s retro they are. They will be playing Newby's on Wednesday, April 9th. Of course, being a die-hard lover of real rock-and-roll, I won't be there. I'll be at what promises to be the loudest, meanest, messiest, butt-kickingest soul-punk show to hit Memphis in quite some time. Let's face it, kids, when The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion rolls through town, you drop whatever it is you may have planned, you drink a quantity of cheap beer, and you shake like demons were being exorcised from your body. They'll be playing Young Avenue Deli on Wednesday, April 9th.
Spencer formed the Blues Explosion in 1991 after his previous group, the storied trash rock band Pussy Galore, imploded. By the mid-1990s it seemed like Spencer might very well be bound for superstardom as you just couldn't go anywhere without hearing something off of Orange or the Memphis-recorded Extra Width. While Spencer's songs covered all the tropes of classic rock-and-roll -- girls, cars, bellbottoms, guitars -- he seemed happiest stepping up to the microphone and screaming "blues explosion! blues explosion!" over and over again, backed by an impossibly soulful Judah Bauer guitargasm or a theremin screeching out of control. "Take a whiff of my pant leg, baby," he would scream, and nobody cared what any of it meant. It was the loudest, wildest fusion of blues, soul, punk, funk, rockabilly, and classic rock anyone had ever heard. It made no sense at all and yet it seemed inevitable. And no sooner had Spencer burst on the scene than he disappeared. Oh sure, he kept putting out CDs filled with concentrated rock-and-roll, but nothing could match the abandon of Orange. He continued to tour, and his audience continued to grow, but the sound got stuck in a rut. And then Plastic Fang came out in 2002, proving that the Blues Explosion was still the loudest, funkiest, punkiest band on the planet.
Spencer has been spotted on more than one occasion slumming in the wilds of north Mississippi, hanging with Jim Dickinson and learning some authentic blues chops from J.D.'s kids the North Mississippi All-Stars. And it shows. While the Blues Explosion is as wild and experimental as ever, they seem less and less like a novelty and more like the greatest dance band of all times. -- Chris Davis