Blues Explosion::Pitchfork Music Festival::07/17/10
Last Saturday I ventured out to the Pitchfork Festival at the invite of someone I admire greatly, Jon Spencer. My admiration stems from his work ethic. He seems to constantly be working on something. He’s often his own tour manager. He’s often the driver. And if you’ve ever seen him in concert you probably know that he’s been infused with the most raw parts of the Spirit of Rock & Roll.
I’ve never seen Jon with the band that introduced his music to my ears, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (or just Blues Explosion). I’ve caught him a few times when he and Matt Verta-Ray tour their rockabilly outfit, Heavy Trash. When I saw an invite to come down in my inbox, it was a quick and easy “yes” in reply.
Upon arriving at Union Park here in Chicago I gave Jon a call. “Hey, Richard. I’m sorry, but I can’t really talk right now. I’ve got to get to work. Did you get in OK?” I knew I had arrived a little close to his start time. I let him know I was in alright and that I’d catch him at the end.
After finding my way around the backstage areas I decided that watching this show from the side just would not do. I walked out from the back and in to the dusty park. The crowd was extremely thick. I’m not sure that there were more people here than last year (both were sold out), but it certainly seemed like it. Raekwon was on the adjacent stage and diverted the attention of the crowd, allowing me to get the position I wanted – dead center of the stage, equidistant from the front of the stage and the front of house position.
While Raekwon continued the local audience waiting for Blues Explosion turned their attention to the stage as Jon and Co. made their ways up to their relative positions. They were up there checking their own gear with the local and touring techs (remember that work ethic?). The cheers were sporadic at first, but with each successive “check, check” they got louder and louder. The band walked off as the neighboring stage finished up.
By the time showtime began the place was packed. Jon, Judah and Russell took the stage and immediately the audience was with them. This band packs a particular type of swagger that is hard to find in this modern age. It has a rawness about it that credits Rock & Roll of the 50s. This band oozes authenticity and spontaneity, yet I get a sense that they know exactly what they’re doing at the same time.
I, by no means, wish to imply there is anything fake here. What I mean is that this kind of presence is earned. It is refined. The critical thing that would set this band apart from so many others, the thing that is so lacking in so many flavor-of-the-month bands, is the sense of danger. There is danger in this rock. That, to me, is the core of what this music is about.
Jon has a unique relationship with my favorite mic, the SM57. This is his long time vocal mic, and it is absolutely his instrument. He can work it like no one I’ve ever seen. If one were to “go to tape” on one of his shows, you could realize how precise and technical he is with it. He’ll put his upper lip on the grill and sweep his voice down the frequency spectrum to get the diaphragm to move in just the right way. And boy, it gets dirty. If I were his wife, I’d think I’d be jealous. During this set I saw him attack it with such ferocity that I thought he was going to suffer a loss of teeth. (Any gigging musician knows what I’m talking about). But right before he would have knocked his ivory out, he instantly decelerates and wraps his lips around the whole grill. Mic technique is something very under-appreciated, but when you see someone who knows what they’re doing with it you very much realize the importance it plays in music.
After the set and some chill time I met up with Jon and we went back to the green room. I was introduced to the rest of the band and crew. We got to chat about the new ribbon mics, the KSM313 and KSM353, which Jon and Matt have been using in their studio to great effect. Can’t wait to hear what that will be.