The Marquee Club recently re-opened in its new north London surroundings with an opening night full of the usual tabloid celebs. Lucky for us, then, that the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was charged with showing that the Marquee Club lives on in more than just name. Looking at the crowd here tonight, it’s unlikely that any of them have been to see David Gray or Travis, so the omens are good.
The gig was put on by Rough Trade, the London record label for which 97% of us have something to be grateful—the other three percent only have 37 records between them anyway. Half of the people here look like the sort of chaps whose dream job would be working in the tiny Rough Trade record shop and the other half look like people from a film made in the ‘70s, from folk who look like members of the Ramones or the Buzzcocks to a guy who looks like he should be driving a truck in Texas and helping Burt Reynolds escape from a sheriff.
Those who have watched on tape the passion of bands like Television, or who own a copy of Marquee Moon, occasionally feel blighted and wish they had lived in a different generation so they could have seen fantastic and wild bands at CBGBs in New York, witnessed the birth of punk, and spent nights out watching the MC5. Years on we have the “New Punk” (eurgh!) bands like Green Day and the jock clones they spawned. But they’re just a pale facsimile of the real thing. The slice of lemon next to the pie, the soft drink-sponsored tour next to the bourbon and pills gigs in clubs small enough to see the whites of their eyes. John Spencer Blues Explosion is the nearest living thing to the embodiment of that 100% proof rock and roll spirit.
The only real way to get the full experience is a combination of drink and getting right in the thick of it all. Right in the eye of the storm where the noise is at its ear-splitting loudest and bodies are flying around like they are possessed. This is not the kind of thing to watch on television. If you’re expecting me to go through listing all the songs they played and comparing the sound of the live performance to that on the album then, sorry. Many here probably could, but watching this live, the total is far greater than the sum of its parts, and to witness this from the back with a notebook is to do it a disservice. In the middle of the blasting sound, this is what it’s all about.
Jon Spencer’s recent album Plastic Fang might not have set the critics’ world on fire, but then this was always a live thing anyway. The lyrics are twisted enough. Re-arrange the words “Yeah!”, “Baby!” “Whoo!”, and “C’mon!” now and then and you get the picture, but Jon Spencer’s voice is like a flamethrower. And with Judah Bauer’s buzz-saw guitar and Russell Simins, who hits his drums like they were an effigy of Richard Nixon, this is one fantastic noise. The sporadic theremin bursts show it’s not only Brian Wilson who can get a great sound out of one, and even if at times the music drops, the performance never does. You might not play the albums over and over, but in the flesh this is wonderfully chaotic stuff.
Across town, in London’s West End in the (s)wanky Café de Paris, the 80s Matchbox B-Line Disaster were splitting the chandeliers with a noise that scared more people than it entertained—house-points to them—at the launch party for a Corey Feldman film called The Bikini Bandits Experience. A movie where girls armed to the teeth with Uzis and sex rescue an Amish retard with the aid of their dream date, the G-Mart-sponsored teen-star Feldman. Don’t bother, it’s shit, but the point is this: the true spirit of rock and roll does still exist. Whether it’s the mighty Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, some new noise machine or even a film made on a budget that wouldn’t feed a catwalk model for a week, the true spirit of rock and roll is still here. These days, you just have to look a bit harder to find it.