Jon Spencer, Jail Weddings at the Echo, 11/10
Heavy Trash, Jail Weddings
The Echo, Nov. 10
Photos and review by Rena Kosnett
I’m just trying to understand why Jon Spencer is doing this. This egomaniacal vanity study called Heavy Trash, which I could take for ironic stagecraft if I wasn’t under the impression that his inflated id is all too authentic, is Jon Spencer’s current musical project, orchestrated alongside Speedball Baby’s handsome guitarist Matt Verta-Ray.
There’s nothing wrong with playing rockabilly music, which Heavy Trash is, in its most digestible form. There’s nothing wrong with twangy foot-stomping rhythms, which Heavy Trash most certainly incorporates. What puzzles me is that Jon Spencer, a man who built his career on wildly fucking shit up, first with Pussy Galore and then (for a while) with the Blues Explosion (the 1996 JSBX album Now I Got Worry is still a favorite), has become the living embodiment of the type of performer he once articulately parodied. Strumming on a pointlessly acoustic guitar—something that Elvis was known for, so he’s staying roots-true to showbiz excess—flourishing a persona that channels Chris Isaak channeling Joaquin Phoenix channeling Johnny Cash, Spencer played entirely typical rock n’ roll hillbilly fare Saturday night at the Echo. Kinda boring. I was ready for the set to be over at least three songs prior to its conclusion. One audience member commented, “It’s so formulaic—it just seems like he’s cruising on name recognition,” and I couldn’t agree more.
During one ill-fated attempt to “get real” with the audience, Spencer went on a fifteen minute mid-song diatribe about the importance of not being self-absorbed. The story, when he finally got it out, was about how a young lady he was dating got in a car crash, narrated over Verta-Ray’s non-stop guitar-picking backbeat, which was really odd. Like, can’t you hold off on the boogie-woogie while you’re telling us about a violent accident involving a loved one?
More after the jump.
On a positive note, it does seem like they are having fun, which is nice, and their handsomely-adorned new Yep Roc release, cover illustrations by Tony Millionaire, has one track I dig titled “Way Out,” which translates well to live performance, although the studio version has more enjoyably rapacious grunting and moaning.
Way more fun/relevant/interesting was the opening act, Jail Weddings, the swampy homage-to-American-music nine man assemblage fronted by Gabe Hart, who was the deep throated creative force behind L.A.’s much missed garage rock band The Starvations. Flanked on each side like busty bookends by vocalists Tina "Tornado Jane" Brugnoletti and Katya Nadia Hubiak (Katya being especially generous with sharing her, umm, assets), Hart displayed once again his amazing capability to write and perform great songs. “I’m My Own Doctor” carried the pounding sweaty malevolence that The Starvations basically patented with their 2003 Gold Standard Labs album Get Well Soon, and “Mutual Fools,” is a memorable love song worthy of placement in the closing credits of some sweet-sad Jim Jarmusch-type movie. The combination of the singing trio with the six musicians at their rear, including guitar player Brian Waters of L.A.’s own white-boy soul machine Flash Express, lovely violinist Hannah Blumenfeld, and mustachioed saxophonist Brad Caulkins, calls for comparison to circa 1979 James White and the Blacks: The Blacks were basically a punk band playing jazz the way Jail Weddings is a garage band playing doo-wop. Jail Weddings, though, is way catchier. Their EP should be dropping soon.