Scorching Rock

Messy, frenzied fun.

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion are pretty much the hottest live rock 'n' roll

band currently operating — they're absolutely kinetic, absolutely in the

moment, blasting the idea of the verse/ chorus/ bridge song into little white-hot

fragments, isolating the most exciting gestures rock can pull off and stretching

them out as long as they can manage. Naturally, this means it's kind of hard for

them to approximate their best work in the studio, so for Acme (1998) they

gathered up those fragments and handed them over to various mixers to recombine,

with Russell Simins' classically raw drumming repurposed as breakbeats. The

process seems to have generated a lot of extra material — almost twice as

much as the original album.

The fabulously energetic, wildly eccentric Xtra Acme USA has half a dozen

remixes of the best Acme material and 13 outtakes, B-sides and curiosities

from the same sessions. (Another JSBX-related album has been simultaneously

released: the much less successful Sideways Soul, on K, with Dub Narcotic

Sound System's Calvin Johnson ranting and chatting over some unspectacular Blues

Explosion jams.) The remixes on Xtra Acme USA range from bizarre ("Magical

Colors" has its lyrics replaced by singer/ guitarist/ Mr. Charisma Spencer's

lover-man monologue — "I'd like to eat a hot dog witchoo, baby /I'd like to

hang out on the corner witchoo") to inspired ("Talk About The Blues" [RealAudio excerpt] turns into

accompaniment for samples of a very musical revival preacher).

Some of the new titles are riffs that don't quite attain songhood, though they

sound great live anyway — the high-tension rimshot/ chicken-scratch number

"Hell" and the ejaculatory "Get Down Lover" (RealAudio excerpt) have been turning up on stage an awful

lot — and in the context of this blur of full-on rockers, they jump around

and vanish too quickly to sound underdeveloped. The band keeps its sinewy guitar/

guitar/ drums attack thrilling by augmenting it with all sorts of guests: Putting

in appearances are a string section, some scratchers, various piano players who

stick to the background, a human beatbox and fife-and-drum bandleader Othar

Turner, and the ancient R&B mack daddy Andre Williams stops by to intone a number

called "Lap Dance." And the most effective new stuff on Xtra is mostly by

the uncut Explosion, revved up and cranking in a way that would've been too

straightforward for Acme — the Misfits-ish "whoa-oh-oh" chorus of

"Electricity" (RealAudio excerpt),

"New Year"'s shout-outs to "nahnteen nahhna-eight!" The disc isn't

as coherent as Acme, but it's also a lot more varied and playful, and

arguably more fun to listen to. And coherence isn't the point of this band,

anyway.