Review and photographs by Kirsten Ferguson
Hurricane Sandy and the storm’s bitter aftermath were on a lot of minds at Club Helsinki last Friday night, when punk-blues band Jon Spencer Blues Explosion — long-time residents of downtown Manhattan — played a frenzied set with Daddy Long Legs, a blues-garage trio from Brooklyn.
“It’s good to be here tonight. We just made it up by the skin of our teeth. It’s like the end of the world out there. It’s like Mad Max,” announced singer and blues harpist Daddy Long Legs as the group that bears the super-tall, long-legged frontman’s (assumed) name came onstage for its hard-rocking, honky-tonkin’ opening set.
Unfortunately, Daddy Long Legs’ esteemed record label, Norton — which released the band’s recent debut, Evil Eye on You — didn’t make it out of the storm unscathed. The Brooklyn warehouse of the long-running, vinyl-centric garage rock label was inundated with water, ruining much of its stock. (Vinyl rescue efforts continue this week at Norton; learn how to help here.)
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion donated 25 percent of its ticket and merch sales to the Red Cross and hurricane relief, and frontman Jon Spencer added some hurricane-related spiel to his trademark sung-spoken vocal riffs. “Fuck it, I’m a hurricane victim. I had no power, no heat,” unleashed Spencer at the start of the band’s explosive, especially loud and cathartic-seeming set.
The fuzzed-out “Black Mold,” the new single from the group’s latest album, Meat and Bone, their first studio album in eight years, was inspired by “that bitch Irene,” Spencer said onstage of last year’s mega-storm. The shaggy-haired Spencer may have looked just a tad older than he did in the band’s 1990s heyday, but nearly every song found him sinking to the stage with a lightning-fast dip of the knees.
They’re a supremely confident rock band, you could say, operating intuitively with no written set list and nary a break from one tune to the next — playing like old friends. Guitarist Judah Bauer stoically unleashed riff after riff, drummer Russell Simins got sweaty and disheveled and slammed the drums hard, and Spencer did that self-referential thing he’s always done, calling out “Blues Explosion” with rock and roll bluster during nearly every song.