Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – What is Cool Anyway?

Live at the Electric Ballroom, December 2012.

Every day, hour on hour, London dispenses dollops of cool into endless freight trains and viral memes that scorch paths into the suburban minds of England. When teenaged Vienna arrived in London from the provinces, I wanted to kiss the floor, but sadly the streets are paved with microbes not gold.

Tonight, I got to live out my dream of hanging in The Good Mixer, Camden’s ex-Britpop HQ. Unfortunately, I am 15 years too late, and the louche ghosts of Alex James planking a fun-furred Donna Matthews are replaced with widescreen football and arsey barstaff.


‘Just what is the essence of cool?’ I reflected as my Sainsbury’s mince pies were routinely confiscated at Electric Ballroom’s door, JSBX’s venue for tonight. “B-but they’re tomorrow’s elevenses,” I stammered pathetically. Finally, unable to bear my whimpers anymore, the bouncer ticketed my orange plastic bag and stashed it in their office.

What would Jon Spencer have done? He wouldn’t have mince pies. Or care about losing them.

What would support act Joe Gideon & The Shark do? Tell a charming tale and saunter on through.

Cool is about copying. George Clooney purloined Cary Grant’s shtick, himself an ersatz Clark Gable. There are two style schools of masculinity to choose from: sensitive beta, or bad boy alpha.

Joe Gideon (Gideon Joel) opts for the former, a mixture of foppy English eccentric Viv Stanshall and my dad c.1978. One definition of cool comes early in the skuzzy spoken-word set: “This is a song about a boy I used to hate at school who grew his hair…After that, his popularity was unrelentingly unremitting.” Cool is…other people.

Sister/drummer Viva uses a sampler, building up yelped harmonies that spirit-circle Joe’s fireside tales. The faux-pas potential of this is limitless, so when she whoops a little off-kilter, it echoes painfully. As the twee imagery mounts up (a parakeet, a satchel, school bullying), their droll psychedelia becomes trying. It’s the passive-aggressive cool of self–effacement, which is only refreshing when alternated with assertiveness.

Jon Spencer has plumbed for alpha Elvis, Vic & Bob club style, his Batman “Oofs” the sound of masked masculinity slugging away at the soft underbelly of uncool. The essence of blues, a middle-aged Mojo kind of cool, is repetition, and JSBX are relentlessly self-referencing. Their metablues has lost power over the years, an Explosion more akin to a security-destroyed suitcase than a cool-defining kaboom. Still perfectly poised and untouchably slick, they’ve lost their punk dedication to disinhibition.

I remember a ‘Who’s the sexiest person alive?’ street poll in The Face, 1994. Risking ridicule, a 14 year old boy answered “Jon Spencer,” such was the pansexual power of this Horny Pony of white blues. Cut to 2012, and JSBX’s cool has become a self-parody, a one trick pony in a skinnyfit pony suit.

Is it better to have had cool, and to have lost it, than never to have had it at all? I wouldn’t know, but it’s no substitute for mince pies. You can’t snack on cool.

Meat and Bone by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is out now on Bronze Rat / Shove

FREAKISH by Joe Gideon & The Shark is out on Jan 7th 2013 also on Bronze Rat

words Vienna Famous

Secret Diary of a Former Failed Celebrity:


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