Spencer P. Jones and The Escape Committee live in Adelaide
I missed the first band, but I’ve heard good things. I did catch The Pro Tools.
Led by the extraordinary Pete Howlett, ThePpro Tools hammer at you - they’re a lot of noisy, in-your-face fun; coupled with Howlett’s almost Dolls-esque behaviour.
“No-one flicks his hair with such elegant contempt as Johnny Thunders,” remarked fellow audience member Nazz Nassari tonight, in response to my observation that Howlett’s perfectly timed angry slash at his hair toward the end of their set expressed an eloquent contempt). I never saw Thunders, but Howlett has a sort of compressed loathing of his instrument, despite his dexterity and talent, as if somehow the instrument simply cannot do what Howlett wants it to. Therein lies part of the public persona/reality of the man.
Spencer P. Jones and the Escape Committee
The Pro Tools and St Morris Sinners.
Crown and Anchor, Adelaide
June 27, 2015
Mandy Tzaras photos
He’s also responsible for bringing Spencer to Adelaide; the other (solo) show we missed. We had tix, but after laying Dean Donovan’s wonderful Kathy to rest, and then going off to work … let’s just say we were emotional.
So. It’s been two years since Spencer’s been here, and we really need to see him here more frequently. Like about every three or four months. I mean, c’mon. So many of us love the man, love his frailty, love his power, love the way he just vanishes inside his songs and it all comes out? None of that phoney commercial “emoting” here. Spencer sings his songs, tells his stories, wrenches whatever poor machine he’s wielding to reluctantly part with it’s sound, the music in his soul.
About 10 years ago I saw him pour his heart out in the most extraordinary performance I’ve ever witnessed. Yet every time I’ve seen him over the last few years, he’s always been on the money. This night, well …
Spencer’s playing, thanks to performing twice a week solo shows for the last two years or so, has improved enormously. He just seems so filled with life, his past and present mingling like a cat twining round your legs. His inventive dexterity, his constant recreation and reinvention within the templates he sets himself … you just watch in awe. When he chops and delivers, you have to pinch yourself in a way, he reminds me a little of Keith Richards. Just the style, you know. The Element.
The famous square of cardboard with the Texta’d set list (he’s been using this for two years now) was there but - also as usual - I never saw it referred to. His band, The Escape Committee, are way, way tight. They always were bastard white-riot tight, now they’re … yeah, sex on a stick. Helen Cattanach’s bass tonight swaggers with powerfully sexy overtones; perhaps it’s the stage, she’s just takes off and runs with the grooves. Drummer David Nicholls keeps the machine going at the back, following multiple leads - Spencer’s not the only one to follow, Michael Hubbard is one of those great guitarists who are happy to follow and bolster a better guitarist. A rare man; the interplay between all these musicians is a special kind of joy.
And then, suddenly, I’m annoyed. I mean, who the fuck does Spencer think he is, writing so many brilliant songs like this? Come on, if you don’t have his albums in your collection you’re not serious about any sort of rock’n’roll at all. “Rumour of Death”, “The Last Gasp”, “The Lost Anxiety Tapes”, “Fait Accompli”, “Immolation and Amelioration”, “Fugitive Songs”, “Sobering Thoughts” and his LP with Kim Salmon, “Runaways” are all without doubt essential. Solid, tough records. You can find some of the more recent here and some of the older, equally as wonderful here.
Spencer plays a clutch of favourites. Some make me blink back tears. For a couple, the floor shifts and I feel like I’m going to fall, like when an elevator drops when you don’t expect it and you think you’re gonna die. A few of the crowd surge and dance. The front row is crammed with dancers who don’t have much room, two gorgeous girls bopping non-stop. Nazz bashes his face somehow during the second song, he’s still bleeding by the end. People have been hugging each other all night. Spencer’s playing and we’re here!
Imagine, if you could, the Stones not being huge stars, and just playing to a small club, to people who love them for their music, not the logo. It would be like this, the band stretching themselves because they could, because they wanted to. Not about the money, the merch, the screens … the rapture of music, the involvement, that heady capture…
If ever a man could be said to inhabit that space Sister Sledge made clear; “We’re lost in music/ caught in a trap/ there’s no turning back/ We’re lost in music/ Feel so alive/ I quit my nine to five …” it’s Spencer P. Jones. May I just say what a treat is was to see one of The Gun Club’s Australian touring band play a powerful, nailed-to-the-cross rendition of “Ghost on the Highway”, which Jeffrey would’ve loved. It’s Spencer’s understated, drag-you-in expression, that voice we’ve heard so often it’s part of us.
Along with Ed Kuepper and Kim Salmon … Spencer is, as Bob Short (no slouch he) once remarked, “Spencer P. Jones is the real deal.” If he’s playing in your town and you miss him … you better have a brilliant excuse.
I’m not telling you the set. This is all you need to know. Spencer’s songs are stately, like a pirate ship, which turn on a whim and crash cannons at the world in seconds. Spencer’s songs are rare, involving gems, germs, hatred and love, real people, prostitutes and bums like me and you, and they’re as simple as they are complex, as potent and memorable as any Rolling Stones track (think, partly “Exile on Main Street” backwards, but also songs like “Happy”). The second last song is his under-rated “Execution Day” and I’m hoping no-one notices my tears. There’s one encore, and the band are happy. We’re happy.
“It’s not vanity/ To me, it’s my sanity,” said Sister Sledge. Thanks again to Pete Howlett, who rashly promised to investigate the other outfit Spencer’s playing with right now, Garry Gray and the Sixth Circle.
Thanks, Spencer. Without men like you, we are not fully alive.