When the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion rose from the ashes of Spencer's first band (noise rock outfit Pussy Galore) in 1990, it represented a whole new take on the filial bond between rock and blues. Instead of simply infusing blues into a rock premise, the New York trio deconstructed the blues, blowing it to bits and rebuilding it in its own irony-laden, post-punk image. The results swerved wantonly, mischievously, between parody and homage. Though the Blues Explosion's current tour with veteran Mississippi bluesman R.L. Burnside in the support slot seems to indicate a more genuinely reverential attitude, the group was as wry and calculated as ever at the Palace on Friday night.
Spencer, a shimmery vision in velveteen and patent leather, unleashed a battery of tongue-in-cheek moves from James Brown-style dance steps to Elvis-like poses accompanied by a Presley-esque "thank you very much." Yet for all the quivering, popping kinetic energy on stage, there was little heart in the music, which rarely fell into a bona fide groove. Even the rowdy finale featuring Burnside and his trio seemed more like a contrived piece of primitivist performance art (at Burnside's expense) than a full-fledged blues jam.
Ultimately, the Blues Explosion captured the gut-level energy of the blues while shunning the spiritual undercurrent that gives that music its emotional power, making for an experience that was conceptually interesting but numbingly soulless.