The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion | Controversial Negro: Live In Tucson (Major Domo Records)

JSBX is one of the greatest live bands ever. Disagree? To quote Spencer, “you can kiss my ass, because your girlfriend still loves me.”

Controversial Negro: Live in Tucson was originally released state-side in 1996 as a vinyl-only promotion item for radio stations, record stores, and other lucky bastards. As it was unavailable domestically until now, Controversial Negro quickly became a true collector’s item, an eBay favorite.

Hailing from New York City, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was quite the divisive outfit. When it came to fan and critical consensus, there was very little in between. Generally, people grabbed a hold of the wagon or rolled their eyes at the whole concept. Whether the JSBX accurately lived up to their namesake, or whether they were borderline minstrels, all the talk was meaningless. Or, as Spencer would one day spell out lyrically, the Blues Explosion were a rock band; a heavily blues-influenced rock band, but a rawk band nonetheless.

Spencer, with his greased-out pompadour, was Elvis turned all the way up; a wild-eyed showman with the fervor of a Pentecostal minister. To borrow a lyric from Les Savy Fav, Spencer was “one cock-sure fox” who frequently blurted out “BLUES EXPLOSION” and other rehearsed banter, to the delight of the masses. Heckling? Spencer was a master of feeding off an audience. One liners, frequently accentuated with permutations of “fuck,” were common place. While their live show was in many ways somewhat telegraphed, the JSBX were not a gimmick band, yet Spencer had his shtick and he played it to the hilt. 

For its first domestic release, Controversial Negro adds fifteen tracks from a second show in 1994.  At damn near 75 minutes, it is more Blues Explosion than you could ask for. Consisting of material up to 1996’s Now I Got Worry (which was re-released earlier this month), this is overkill at its finest. With all respect to the recent “greatest hits” collection Dirty Shirt Rock n’ Roll: The First Ten Years, Controversial does the band more justice than a studio collection ever could.  The Blues Explosion was a band meant to see live and Controversial features them at its qualitative and creative apex. When removed from all pretenses their name conjured up, the Blues were number one, and Controversial Negro is testament to one of the greatest live bands ever. Disagree? Fine. To quote Spencer, “you can kiss my ass, because your girlfriend still loves me.” A | David Lichius

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