CULTURE

Not blues as we know it, as name suggests, but the feeling’s there

They’re not quite blues in the traditional sense, but there’s no doubt about their explosive quality. For well over a decade now, the acclaimed New York trio Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, due back in Athens this week several years after its first appearance here, has fumbled with the blues to harvest its own fiery – often chaotic – blend. The trio, which had first performed in Greece at the recently closed Rodon Club, returns for one show at the Gagarin Club on Saturday, the last of just four European shows. The three other appearances, throughout the week, have been planned for Brighton, London and Dublin. Fronted by Jon Spencer, a rock ‘n’ roll wildman renowned for his captivating stage performances, the trio formed back in 1991 after his previous band, Pussy Galore, called it a day. Spencer was joined by guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins for a lineup that has remained unchanged. Over the course of several great albums and numerous shows, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has generated a considerable following and the respect of many peers. But, the act, especially its ostentatious frontman, has also managed to sharply divide critics. Spencer has been viewed as both an inspired showman and entertainment con man. Most likely, he is a bit of both. Either way, many of his peers, all renowned for their own work, have been impressed by Spencer and his band, as reflected by the frequency of high-caliber guest appearances on albums. For instance, «Orange,» a 1994 release, featured pop-blues-folk-funk – or plainly, fusion – wonderboy Beck, while other, older projects have included contributions from Mike D of the Beastie Boys and Moby. The act’s most recent release, last year’s very well-received «Damage,» included a guest appearance from DJ Shadow and, furthermore, was co-produced by Steve Jordan, renowned for his work with the Rolling Stones, and Alan Moulder, whose production work has included the Jesus and Mary Chain as well as Nine Inch Nails. The act’s early musical days were chaotic, if not incomprehensible. Their second album, 1992’s «Crypt Style,» was a semi-coherent effort. Spencer adopted an imitation blues vocal style, and the band played wildly around him in a bluesy sort of way. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s following album, «Extra Width,» released a year later, began generating wider exposure for the act. Spencer and his bandmates got airtime on MTV’s alternative rock show «120 Minutes» with the video for the song «Afro.» Compared to the act’s previous material, «Extra Width» displayed a new emphasis on tighter songs, funky backbeats and catchy riffs. By this stage, Spencer was singing, even looking, like a Grade-Z Elvis impersonator, to become the latest addition to a growing club of oddball Presley admirers who expressed their fascination of the King, and his influence on them, in a warped way. Other notable examples included Lux Interior, singer of psychobilly band the Cramps, and the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce of punk-blues band the Gun Club, who was often described as «Elvis From Hell» for his tortured vocal delivery that somehow resonated that of the King’s. Pierce finally succumbed to alcohol and substance abuse in the mid-1990s. Returning to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, it should be highlighted that the band is a hot prospect on stage which tends to generate the kind of energy that became anathema to many punk and post-punk bands. Saturday, Gagarin 205 Club, 9.30 p.m. (205 Liosion, tel 210.854.7600-2). Advance tickets, 27 euros, at Tickethouse (42 Panepistimiou), P.M.W. music store (Panepistimiou and Patission), i-ticket.gr, and ticketshop.gr.