There's something terribly sad about seeing Jon Spencer playing with his latest band, Heavy Trash, before a crowd in the two figures on a Sunday night. Spencer once led his Blues Explosion trio to glorious heights of critical respect, artistic achievement and respectable commercial showing. They recorded at least three excellent albums (Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Extra Width and Orange) and were one of the most dynamic, thrilling live bands on the planet for the first half of the '90s. What made JSBX special were the trio's subversion of trad rock (and its blues roots) through outrageous exaggeration and mutation of its base elements (including cult of personality/ego boosting/Elvis vocal mannerisms), whirlwind/shift-on-a-dime dynamics and sheer amphetamine-freak energy. A show by them at CBGB in 1990 remains one of the most brain-blasting rock spectacles I've ever witnessed (and I've witnessed many).
Before JSBX, Spencer led Pussy Galore, a controversial band of mostly Ivy League graduates playing at being stoopid, feminist-baiting, LES scum rockers. Pussy Galore were the best band on the planet for one week in 1988, right after Sugarshit Sharp came out. Them were the days...
By contrast, Heavy Trash (who include Speedball Baby/Madder Rose's Matt Verta-Ray) are a disappointing retrograde pantomime. Both Spencer and Verta-Ray have done much more challenging work in their previous outfits. On this tour, the guitarists (Matt on electric, Jon on acoustic) are backed by the bill's opening group, PowerSolo (standup bass, tabletop guitar, drums). They competently run through rockabilly numbers that are essentially roots-music museum pieces. Heavy Trash show too much reverence for the past, approaching it from all-too-familiar, rote angles. Their music comes off as a pointless, listless exercise in nostalgia.
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PowerSolo, on the other hand, played the same sort of meatloaf-and-mashed-potatoes Americana rock, but somehow imbued it with freshness, partly due to a wickedly funky drummer and a feral, redneck energy. So imagine my surprise when I found out they're not from Alabama, but rather Aarhus, Denmark. Led by two guitarist brothers (Kim Kix and Atomic Child) who must weigh 250 pounds between them, PowerSolo spirited out a series of tightly constructed songs that were instantly memorable and danceable. As reinventions of the good-time rock-and-roll wheel go, PowerSolo's was delightful. Let's hope they make Heavy Trash step up their game.