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June 12, 1998
CitySearch Music!

Scream Real Loud!

I've been to many a Lounge Lizards gig in my time and I've always been a little perplexed by the audience. Not by the mix of tidy yuppies, paunchy jazz aficionados, gaunt hipsters, and giggling Japanese girls--that makes perfect sense. No, what makes me wonder is the audience's reverent hush directed toward such an irreverent band. I mean, they stand up there an yell when they get into it, so why not us? At last Thursday's Bowery Ballroom show, there was barely a peep out of them through the first several songs as the Lizards churned along like one of those spectacular, shining early steam engines--all gleam and moving parts and bursts of heat. Finally, the bassist was left alone on stage for a deep, minimal solo (band members exit when they're not playing) and as the audience stood motionless and silent, either hypnotized or half-asleep, one woman tore open the quiet with a guttural, prolonged, shriek of "ROCK OUT MOTHERFU@#ER!" Everyone laughed and the spell was broken.

In fact, it was hard to shut the audience up afterward, particularly when John Lurie began playing the name game with the audience--how many names can you think of with the initials B.B? The whole room began shouting for "Bill Bixby" and "Bix Beiderbecke" and "Bugs Bunny!"--"Bugs Bunny isn't a real person! That doesn't count"--until someone topped all with "Bobby Blue Bland!" and we were all shushed for a version of "The Birds Near Her House" that extended well past the 12 minutes it lasts on disc. The entire show sprawled more than Lizards gigs I've seen in the past--longer songs, songs sliding directly from one into another, lenghty solos for all concerned. (Though I would've liked to hear more from the mighty Calvin Weston, whose seemingly endless howling poundfests are always a highlight.) Still, I've said before, the Lounge Lizards are one of the few bands that can pull off this sort of extended jam without veering into Deadhead drawl territory.

After well over an hour, the band left the stage, and audience continued exercising their newly-discovered power to holler--someone still yelling "Brigitte Bardot!"--until the band returned for an encore (My companions and I amused ourselves during this interlude by exchanging stories about people we knew whom John Lurie had hit on. No, I will not share success ratios.) Lurie dished a little on the new venue--he asked if everyone had a tough time getting tickets (yes) and compared the backstage to "Bosnia." Investigation revealed it to be pretty raw indeed: two tiny dusty rooms--one had a light fixture and which was crowded with sticky folding chairs, the other was empty, lightless, and had an electrical cord running into the window and out the door, which dangled three feet from the ceiling and looked suspiciously like the electricity for the entire building ran through it. The Bowery Ballroom's a nice joint, but it still needs some work.

The next evening's entertainment was the wacky James "Blood" Ulmer/Afrika Bambataa and the Soulsonic Force/Jon Spencer Blues Explosion show that was part of the Texaco Jazz Festival. You might scratch you head and say "what is jazz, if this is?" but I viewed the gig as more of a "what is blues"--be it Ulmer's electrified psycho-delia, Bambataa's urban storytelling, or Spencer's white punk flailing.

As to Ulmer's set, all I can say is: the Hudson Tent runs on schedule, and you better believe it! I just missed him. (Damn!) However, we made it in time to seeAfrika Bambataa and the Soulsonic Force take the stage--and I mean take, like an enemy ship or a sucker with money in his pocket because there was no half-steppin' afoot here. Bambataa was his usual imperious royally garbed self, and the Soulsonic Force came on like a reunion of old blaxploitation heroes--you know how Richard Roundtree and Jim Brown are still badass after all these years? Like the. Afrika may have seemed to let the Force dominate, but he was just giving equal time to every man in true democratic fashion. And there was a lot of talent up there and skills to shame most of the youngsters trying to make a buck on a rhyme these days--the skinny guy with the sweatpants pushed up one leg, getting nasty enough to make Big Pun blush, or the Jim Brown lookalike dropping sold, non-nonsense science with Biggie-like authority. These guys are the real damn deal, as they proved when they began goading the audience to "scream as loud as you can." But every time the countdown to making New Jersey feel the noise got to "two," they'd begin rocking one more rhyme, delaying it once more. It was one of the most masterful displays of audience control I've ever seen--promise complete release, then keep withholding it. These men are professionals and I would not mess with them, no doubt, and it came across loud and clear to the gathered Blues Explosion fans which, despite that band's undeniable funkiness, frequently displayed the creaky air of people who've just realized "Hey, I've got a...booty!"

And, at last, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, who were taking some time off the recording of their new album to do what they do best. According to my highly-paid informants the new record, being crafted at the historic Green Street Studios (site of fine work by Public Enemy, Pete Rock, and--hey!--Afrika Bambataa), is "more accessible" than past Explosion works, whatever that means. It also contains the second-greatest song title ever, "Bacon," though the greatest song title ever, "We Need Lyrics" has been sacrificed. There will also be a collaboration with Luscious Jackson's Jill Cuniff.

The Blues Explosion, doubtless a bit uneasy at going on after the Old School Avengers, kicked off with the irrefutable "Blues X-Plosion Man" and, as always, didn't let up for a second once they began, pummeling the audience like Muhammad Ali, just hit after hit with no time to breathe in between. I think that may be the secret of their mindbending show: they don't stop, so you can't think. Well, that and Mr. Spencer's down-to-the-ground trash Elvis in silver lame action, along with the torrential drumming of Russell Simmins, looking like a dememnted 8-year old all over his teensy kit. I had the privilege of taking a friend who hadn't seen the Blues Explosion to this show, and the sight of her when Spencer cranked up the theremin--shrieking like a madwoman, totally past the ability to form word or thought--once again underlines what's so great about seeing a show: In our crowded city, there are few places where you can just let loose and scream real loud and it's nice to have a place where we can all do it together.


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