Motoring down to the Rock House to see the Explosion after all of these years was enough to make a 40-something pine for his or her days as a young college student.
After all, the Blues Explosion was one of the great bands who visited college towns, blew out many speakers and pioneered independent rock at the time. Long before Jack White and Dan Auerbach were doing their thing, Jon Spencer and Dexter Romweber popularized garage blues, dragging roots music through a strainer of punk-rock distortion and frenetic energy. Of course, Spencer would tell you that he was only reviving the sound of his influences, such as the Stooges, New York Dolls, Velvet Underground and Gun Club.
The Blues Explosion hasn't been to St. Louis since the Mississippi Nights days, and the crowd's enthusiasm tonight reflected that absence. The crowd was pretty small, given the band's absence from the scene over the last decade. This wasn't too surprising though, given it was a Tuesday night, the Tame Impala show going on across town and the Explosion's avant-garde style never attracted huge numbers, much less after not being part of the indie-rock conversation for a decade.
The trio entered the stage without introduction or fanfare as their fans lounged outside on the Rock House veranda. After launching into new material, a crowd eventually coalesced near the stage. The band ran through countless garage-punk numbers while the Rock House crowd jockeyed for position. The dual guitar assault was even more distorted than I remembered and the vocals definitely more garbled and incomprehensible. This was not a positive in the respect that it was impossible to notate song titles.
The first half of the show was a bit non-descript and the second half was a thoroughly enjoyable punk-rock dance party. The lack of bass guitar was remedied by the band's trademark use of low-E string guitar runs. The trio rocked many of its old-school tunes with great guitar hooks and screeching vocals. Many of these songs were cut short or weaved into multi-song medleys. Somehow the lack of full numbers didn't leave the crowd unsatisfied.
Whether it was "Bellbottoms," or "Ditch" or "Brenda," the crowd went wild for the band that they hadn't seen in many years here.
Playing a venue a bit less formidable than when they used to play Mississippi Nights, the trio did not phone it in by any means. They poured it on relentlessly as if they were three teenagers trying to make it on their first club tour. I thought the show was over no less than five times only to be greeted with more passionate music. The garage-punk guitar lines were still there. The wild mid-song breakdowns were there. The fuzzed out doo-wop ballads were there. And the rockabilly vocal echoes were in full effect.
As the show progressed, Spencer became more animated and interactive with the crowd. The Rock House patrons responded accordingly. Guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins equaled Spencer's passion and played inspiringly well.
I'm not sure why the upper 40-something trio -- all original members -- decided to pile back in the van and endure the slog of a club tour, but I'm sure glad they did.