- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion 's "Plastic Fang" is the band's first full-length recording of entirely new material since 1998's "Acme." Refreshed by the long break, Mr. Spencer and his band mates, guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins, motivated themselves to make their best disc yet.
"The goal for this record was to grow artistically and as a band," Mr. Spencer says during a phone interview. "We wanted to make a classic record [that is] undeniable and couldn't be easily dismissed."
He's nearing the end of a "pretty intense two months" of promotion for the record. The music press, particularly writers in Europe and Japan, has been especially inquisitive about the longer-than-usual quiet period.
The band toured the world for a year following "Acme" then took a "big break" before writing material during the fall of 2000, Mr. Spencer says. The intentional intermission "gives everybody a chance to recharge the batteries," he says.
It helps that the band's label, New York City's Matador Records, didn't pressure it for a new disc. "We don't answer to anybody," Mr. Spencer says. "We just do what we want."
That includes making the decision to interview a series of producers before choosing Steve Jordan. Members of the group gave each candidate early versions, or demos, of 20 new songs, then bought CDs from the producers to study their styles. "We've never done that before, working with one person from start to finish," says Mr. Spencer, who was a D.C. resident in the mid-1980s. "We were interested because we wanted to grow and try something new."
"Plastic Fang" eschews the eclecticism of "Acme" and transports the band into a cigarette-burnt, whiskey-soaked rock 'n' roll club where the Blues Explosion headlines every show. The trio celebrates the hedonism of a two-guitar attack throughout, with Mr. Spencer starring as the charismatic bad boy. "I wanna to get crazy/I wanna to get famous/I wanna to rock your city tonight," he sings, impassioned and oh so true to form on "Shakin' Rock 'n' Roll Tonight." The band gets crazy tonight at the 9:30 Club.
Fittingly for a howler whose singing conjures up a tortured blues singer or overly caffeinated '50s-style radio DJ, Mr. Spencer rumbles through a funky retelling of the Wolfman legend on "She Said," the album's standout track. Mr. Jordan brings clarity to the effort while only mildly sacrificing the spontaneous fervor of the Blues Explosion's live shows.
Mr. Spencer's beginnings in the music business trace to the Washington area. In 1985, he and a friend, Julie Cafritz, decided to leave Brown University and move here to Miss Cafritz's home turf. Before long, they founded Pussy Galore, a hate-spewing punk band named after the villainness in the James Bond novel "Goldfinger."
Mr. Spencer says he and Miss Cafritz weren't crazy about this area and that they quickly felt the pull of New York City. But he enjoys his visits to the area for personal reasons. He met his Pussy Galore band mate and wife, Cristina Martinez, during his brief time here. Her family still lives in the area, as does Mr. Spencer's brother.

If No Doubt 's Gwen Stefani were a comic book superheroine, she'd be known as the Starmaker. Instead of a bat symbol, musicians would shine a microphone against the cloudy sky to contact the blond wonder woman. Then, into the studio she'd fly, ready to inject her dynamic energy and alluring mix of goofiness and glamour. She's the music industry's go-to guest performer, the singer whose presence catapults newcomers and established-but-not-yet-huge artists such as Moby into the fickle music mainstream.
Miss Stefani helps move records and win awards. She and Eve Jihan Jeffers, who records and performs as simply Eve, picked up a 2002 Grammy in the "Rap/Sung Collaboration" category for "Let Me Blow Ya Mind."
Miss Stefani and her band mates have a knack for picking talent to make them look better, too. The Southern California group's most recent album, "Rock Steady," sparkles like Caribbean sand thanks to splashes of reggae and dub inspirations from producers Sly & Robbie. Nellee Hooper perks up the dance quotient, and Ric Ocasek, driver of '80s fave the Cars, indulges No Doubt's affection for new wave. The band, which also received an assist from the artist we'll refer to as Prince, brings the party to the sold-out Smith Center at George Washington University tomorrow.

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