“C’mon, fellas, we gotta pay respect,” Jon Spencer directs in a Big Bopper-like bellow to start off Freedom Tower – No Wave Dance Party 2015, his 10th outing at the front of his bizzaro rock outfit the Blues Explosion. Reverence is something of an odd fit for the Blues Explosion, a band whose deconstructionist tendencies have always subverted their love for blues, punk, funk, and soul. To hear Spencer rally his longtime cohorts — guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins — around such a firm directive is interesting to say the least.
Spencer has described Freedom Tower as a celebration of the band’s home of New York City, specifically “The Hustler and The Trust Fund Baby, the Mosh Pit Casualty, the Celebrity Chef, the Crooked Cop, the Struggling Artist, the Sucker MC, the forgotten Sex Workers, and Last-Chance Cinderellas.” That’s a lot to grapple with. But, while the record doesn’t concretely nail down New York’s sonic sprawl, it more than does justice to the city’s kinetic energy and melting pot musical culture.
The fun in Freedom Tower comes from finding the short New York-infused blasts of inspiration checkered throughout the record’s 13 tracks. It’s there’s in the disco backbeat that Simins works into the breakdown of “Do the Get Down” and the “dance, dance” chants that define “Crossroad Hop”. Tracks like “Betty vs. the NYPD” and “Dial Up Doll” dish out the kind of dirty shirt rock and roll that made its bones at CBGB. Elsewhere, Spencer channels the flow of hip-hop OGs like the Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow. A record as chaotic and full of life as the city that inspired it, Freedom Tower sweats with feverish energy. In the end, the Blues Explosion succeeds in honoring New York’s bevy of musical riches, even if it’s in their own off-kilter manner.
Essential Tracks: “Do the Get Down”, “Crossroad Hop”