CULTURE

Blues retold in explosive new chapter

It’s become a seasoned and traditional form, but as the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion delivers it, blues music lives on. The New York act, widely regarded as a leading exponent of contemporary blues, or whatever it is that this innovative act has made of the style, will be performing in Athens tonight. Who, then, is the act’s frontman, a musician who commands widespread respect in his field? Spencer had gained some earlier exposure with his previous band, Pussy Galore, an outfit whose lineup included well-known figures of New York’s rock scene. That band’s drummer, for instance, ended up playing with Sonic Youth, one of the city’s most innovative and celebrated rock groups of more recent times. Spencer, however, has made far more impact with his Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. New blues The outfit released a self-titled debut album in 1992 and has since put out several lauded recordings. Though true to the tradition of blues and rock’n’roll, the band has also managed to add new dimensions to the form. The results sound miraculously contemporary. Scratching noises, as typically heard in hip-hop, are included in the act’s cocktail. «Blues is a wonderful language. Personally, I’m trying to interpret the form – comprehend it. It’s a significant musical form because it lies within all of us. The blues really can change the world,» Spencer, the act’s frontman, responded in a telephone interview when asked to comment on his perception of the blues. The musical press has hailed the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion as a rock’n’roll reformist, while other innovative colleagues have collaborated with the act. Beck guested on the band’s third album, 1994’s «Orange,» while Mike D of the Beastie Boys and Moby have also joined the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion for work in the studio. Reformist tag «I don’t know whether I’m a reformist in blues and rock. I’ll accept this as flattery, but, actually, I do remain faithful. With the Blues Explosion, we’re trying to carry on the tradition,» said Spencer. His group first performed in Greece several years ago at the Rodon Club and left the audience spellbound. Spencer says the stage is the most natural setting for him. He described performing as an interactive, battery-charging experience. «I feel far more comfortable on stage than I do in the studio or any place else,» said Spencer. «It’s satisfying, you’ve got the audience there in front of you. You get to understand how it reacts. The audience feeds you with energy and you give back in return. We’re a live band seeking communication.» The telephone interview for this story was, incidentally, held on September 11, which, inevitably, brought New York City, Spencer’s home base, into the discussion. «My music is New York itself. I would find it hard to live anywhere else. I get so much stimulation from this place. It’s a multicultural metropolis. Today is September 11 and, no doubt, the atmosphere is strange, heavy and highly strung. A tragedy, that’s what happened two years ago,» said Spencer. He is also a member of one of New York City’s other emblematic bands, Boss Hog, a blues-punk act. Spencer shares the helm of this project with his wife, Cristina Martinez, an ex-band mate during his earlier Pussy Galore days. Onstage, and as frontman of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Spencer, the act’s singer and guitarist, is accompanied by fellow guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins. Together they make a tumultuous trio. Strangely for a rock band, the act does not use bass, neither on stage nor in the studio. Bringing them in When recording, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s sound is frequently embellished by guest appearances. For its most recent release, last year’s «Plastic Fang,» the trio was joined by Dr John and Bernie Worrell, who earned his fame as the keyboardist in George Clinton’s legendary funk band Funkadelic in the 1970s, before guesting with numerous other leading acts, among them Talking Heads. «Both Dr John and Bernie Worrell are great artists. I consider it an honor to have collaborated with them,» said Spencer. «They represent history in rock, a history that is alive and remains in motion.» The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion performs today at 9 p.m. in Athens at the Gagarin 205 Club (205 Liosion, Attikis Square, tel 210.854.7600-2).