Show reviews: Refused and The Bronx at The Fonda; Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at 98.7 FM; Sandy Yang, SheKhan, and howardAmb at The Smell

Last week got off to a great start with Monday night’s Refused show at The Fonda. But Friday wasn’t bad, either. I got to attend a free matinee by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at a local radio station and then saw some friends at The Smell.

When this particular gig was posted by JSBX on FaceBook a couple of days before, I sent an email to the contact, and actually received an invite to attend the performance at a ClearChannel building in Burbank. Weird but cool, right? The performance took place in a black box of a small room with a cozy stage and a few rows of pillows to sit on, but a full-on mixing board and pro speakers. Russell Simins played drums on a flipped-over tall recycling bin. The trio only played a few songs but they were heavy, including “Black Mold” and “Black Thoughts,” with references to Sandy’s recent damage to their hometown of New York City and neighboring states. JSBX is national treasure of punk rock ‘n’ soul, and they seem like cool dudes, too. We dozen or so guests weren’t allowed to snap pictures of the performance but Judah and Jon were totally down for a quick photo afterward. Rad! Definitely catch them on tour with the mighty Quasi if you can. And if I ever go to another show at the station, I’m totally taking Eloise…

Later that evening, I headed over to The Smell to see my friend Sandy Yang play a solo gig. I am very familiar with her work with the experimental Lady Noise and hyper conceptual Red Krayola, but have never heard her just singing and playing guitar. Backed by the dudes in howardAmb, her No Wave riffs were simple and smart, raw and reflective, and a rad mix of punk, junk, and art. More, please.

I stuck around to see Kelly and Kathleen from Sandy’s old band, Lady Noise, play as SheKhan (above). What a cool name. What a cool sound. Ambient improvisation sometimes held together by somewhat hip-hop beats. Check them out if you can. And then there was howardAmb (below), whose choices of covers to bookend their set (Bongwater, Sparks) defines their deconstructed, dark, and tweaked electronic sound so I don’t have to.

Which brings us back to Refused’s farewell show to the U.S. Opening the gig was L.A.’s own The Bronx. I saw them play as Mariachi El Bronx a few months ago, but this was the first time for me to catch one of their relentless punk sets. Alternately as angry as Rollins or affable as Speedo, frontman Matt Caughthran did a great job of amping up the crowd, getting the circle pit going, and playing some straight-up, kick-ass songs. He dedicated one song to the Lakers, not the Clippers, and Dodgers, not the Angels. I get it and it worked, but no love for the Stanley Cup champs?

Refused are famous for being as entertaining in their presentation as they are revolutionary in their message, as well as playing hardcore with as much technical skill as fury. And these days there’s humility and gratefulness to balance the anger and swag of songs like “The Shape of Punk To Come,” which opened the furious and amazing set. Mixed into the tack-sharp breakdowns, irresistible singalongs, leftist diatribes, and dance moves that recall Jagger, Daltrey, and Brown, not to mention a Stooges cover. The New Noise Theology EP came out 15 years ago, but “New Noise” has never sounded newer or better.

Refused Are Fucking Dead is what the old T-shirts said, but now they’re back and the gear reads Free Pussy Riot. Fuck yeah! Sadly, this is it for the band’s reunion run that began at FYF, but maybe that means the Noise Conspiracy will come back…

See you at the next shows, something like SISU, Morrissey w/ The Stooges, Hot Snakes w/ Night Marchers, The Boss…

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