The Jayhawks opened the evening in fine, unassuming fashion. It's unusual for a band to have two lead singers with high, reedy voices. The harmonies were especially thrilling on the current single, "Blue," and the set closer, "Real Light." There was one delicate moment; any opening act that asks an audience eager to see the headliner, "Have you got time for one more, Phoenix?" is just asking for trouble. Luckily, the Hawks finished the show without incident. Although the band's set probably would have translated better in a smaller, intimate venue (whose wouldn't?), the fact that the band could carry off material from the new album Tomorrow the Green Grass without the strings and pedal steel is noteworthy indeed.--

April 25, 1995
Good God! Who put all that energy into this Jon Spencer, this skinny New York white boy? And where did he learn to spit and snarl like a pit bull with a hangover? And why wasn't there a bass player? And when was the last time you saw a theremin onstage?

Best to ditch these and any other questions in the "rhetorical" file and get right to the point: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is quite possibly the best live act you'll see in this or any other lifetime. Picture this--two guitarists and a drummer playing some kind of Seventies, funked-up bastardization of the blues with Hoover Dam levels of energy. It's evil. It's bizarre. But it's no gag, no hipper-than-thou joke on you.

What the Blues Explosion does is unique: distorted, gangly stuff that is contained (but never tamed) in a wicked groove by drummer Russell Simmins, late of the Honeymoon Killers. But Spencer is the undeniable star of the show; onstage he is a riveting, wiry stick of a man tossing off distorted guitar lines, gallons of sweat and lyrics that seem to consist mainly of growls and the word "motherfucker." And the frequent litany of Blues Explosion! Blues Explosion! Blues Explosion!

Spencer and company are currently considered hipper than shit by many, and with good reason. He can actually pull off a serious badass persona without being ludicrous, and be ludicrous while acting like a serious badass. If that doesn't seem to make sense, maybe--like with the Boss himself--you have to see the man in person to get it. Suffice to say that Spencer is cool. And if you don't believe me, dig the fact that people who work at Tower, Zia and Eastside Records were in the crowd. He must be doing something right!

And speaking of people in the crowd, the Explosion was blowing 'em away from the start. The front lines were roiling most of the night, and Spencer found himself anointed with a couple of airborne shoes and a few ice cubes during the set. At one point in midlyric, he squinted up at the balcony whence a projectile had come, blew a kiss and flipped middle fingers right and left like Eastwood drawing to kill on some poor sonofabitch. The man gave it up for the people of Phoenix; if you missed him this time, don't make the same mistake twice. All I can say is, Blues Explosion! Blues Explosion! Blues Explosion!-

April 23, 1995
Matthew Sweet pens near-perfect pop songs. That much is evident from his last three solo recordings, all of them crowded with flowery guitar chords, shiny harmonies and post-GED lyrics that question everything from God's will to the next night's wardrobe.

But Sweet's a long way from perfect onstage. That much was equally evident, sometimes painfully so, at the Rockin' Horse.

Things were encouraging enough at the outset, with Sweet taking the stage looking slim and trim, fresh from an apparent victory in his latest battle against bulk. After flashing a toothy smile at the elbow-room-only crowd, Sweet kicked into "Sick of Myself," from his new CD, 100% Fun, and followed with "I've Been Waiting," off his 1991 career effort, Girlfriend. It was an inspired coupling considering the former's sidelong cynicism ("In a world that's ugly and a lie/It's hard to even want to try") and the latter's Pollyanna optimism ("I didn't think I'd find you/Perfect in so many ways"). The songs also complement each other with similar, killer melodies, and they both flirt with total bliss when the vocal harmonies hit.

But that's on disc. The concert renditions were shaggy--at times prohibitively so. And they were further undercut by a muddy sound mix.

The band's sloppiness can be attributed, in part, to lead guitarist Ivan Julian, who'd recently been hired on to replace Sweet's usual guitar slinger, ex-Television star Richard Lloyd. It was Julian's third time out playing Sweet's new stuff, and it showed. Julian's a bona fide guitar god, having noodled fashionably with East Coast acts ranging from Richard Hell to the Bongos. But on this night, he was a deity in training, with Sweet repeatedly glancing across the stage following a curious chord or solo. Bassist Tony Marcillo fared better. The goateed former Cruzado anchored the rhythm section, and his background vocals help tie down Sweet's occasionally sour singing.

Midway through the evening, Sweet and his band started hitting cylinders in proper sequence. "Girlfriend" pitched and rolled with a ragged charm, topped by Julian, cigarette dangling out of his mouth, New York rocker-cool intact, cranking out his best solo of the night. Sweet followed that highlight with "We're the Same," the best song off the new CD and the best showing of the night for Sweet and Marcillo's vocal work.

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