Jon Spencer & the HITmakers @ Club Dada, Dallas January 22, 2019
It had been almost six years to the day (January 23, 2013) since Jon Spencer had played in Dallas, at Trees with the Blues Explosion. With JSBX being MIA, Jon has ventured out with his first ever solo album, Spencer Sings The Hits (Shove/In The Red), and a new band: The HITmakers. He recruited keyboardist Sam Coomes of Quasi and drummer M. Sord, who Spencer had met working with Hits producer Bill Skibbe on previous JSBX and Boss Hog projects. The writing and recording of the record reminded Spencer of working with his first band Pussy Galore, especially with the use of metallic percussion sounds. This prompted him to bring former PG (and Sonic Youth/ Bewitched/ Chrome Cranks/ Wolfmanhattan Project) drummer Bob Bert to be a part of the HITmakers live show. Bert infamously used various metal objects in PG such as pieces of sheet metal over his snare, a gas tank from a car as a rack-tom, and a huge iron spring for a cowbell. His presence was an interesting addition as he used hammers for drumsticks, with an aluminum trashcan for a floor-tom, set upside down and what looked like a 12-inch disc brake on top.
It was thrilling to hear Bert and Spencer play a couple of PG tunes once again. I had seen previous set-lists that had “Just Wanna Die” and “No Count” on them and was bummed that they played neither. However I was super-surprised by the second song of the night when Spencer began the Japanese chime intro of “Pretty Fuck Look”. I also knew “New Breed” was on the menu. It seemed like a very sparse arrangement of the song. I was so focused on Spencer and Bert that I didn’t even notice what the other HITmakers were doing during that one. And I couldn’t help but sing out loud the opening riff to “Alright!” when it ended (the two songs close out side one of Pussy Galore’s ‘87 first album Right Now!).
There were many hits this evening from Jon’s catalog, but it was a showcase for the new album. Every song from the record except for “Fake” was performed. Highlights for me were “Ghost”, “Time 2 Be Bad”, the funky “Hornet”, the album closer and final encore “Cape”, and my favorite “Wilderness”. The showstopper was the Duane Eddy sounding stroller “Love Handle”, which evolved into a bit of a sermon. Club Dada’s stage is small and strange. The front edge of the stage is actually a riser for the floor monitors. Before the show had started I imagined Jon would find himself stepping up there, making closer contact with the audience. I couldn’t help but think of one of his biggest influences, Nick Cave, and the way Cave had a runway he walked back and forth across delivering his church service. Jon expressed his concerns with the way the world is today. “Is it gonna be ok?” Like Cave he also asked a couple of audience members to put down their phones. While covering a friend’s phone with his hand he said, in a broken-hearted lover pleading to be taken back voice, “Why are looking at that box? I’m right here. I’m right here, baby.” A few seconds later he dropped to his knees, screaming into the microphone like James Brown on the T.A.M.I. Show. I was expecting Bob to come over and put a cape on Jon’s back, consoling him as he escorted him off the stage. That would have been awesome.
In addition to the two PG songs, we got two BX tunes; the first JSBX jukebox smash “Shirt-Jac” and Orange’s “Dang”, which got a huge response from the crowd, who began yelling out “Number 1! The Blues are number 1!”. Bert responded to the friendly heckling with “The HITS are number 1!” It was thrilling hearing him add metal to a BX song, and while M. Sord is an solid drummer, he’s no Russell Simins, but he did a smash-up job nonetheless. Meanwhile Sam Coomes filled in the gaps with backup vocals and different keyboard elements to fill in the spots where Judah Bauer or Neil Haggerty would have been. He even duplicated Spencer’s theremin at the end of “Dang”. I would loved to have heard a Boss Hog song, but we were treated to the Heavy Trash rave-up “The Loveless”, which somehow morphed into The Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner”. It was a crazy and beautiful. I’ve read that Judah Bauer has been dealing with health issues and of course Russell has been busy with his new band Service, so I don’t know if the Blues Explosion will make a return. I’m not sure if Spencer will make a sequel to Hits and explore the further possibilities of this band, but with every Spencer Sonic Drop* (the move Jon constantly makes where he drops into a stance with his right knee slightly bent and left leg charging forward) he doesn’t seem to have let age stop him from doing what he loves: playing Rock ‘N’ Roll. Jon Spencer is still #1.Jon Spencer is still #1.
*how it was described to me by Johnny Moondog