Music & Nightlife

Legendary alt-rock showman Jon Spencer is back in the driver’s seat with the HITmakers

Jon Spencer will perform with his new band the Hitmakers at Neighborhood Theatre on Sunday night.
Jon Spencer will perform with his new band the Hitmakers at Neighborhood Theatre on Sunday night.

In the opening scene of filmmaker Edgar Wright’s 2017 hit film “Baby Driver,” a getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) dances in his seat and mouths the words to the music while he waits for his bosses to finish robbing a bank. The song? The Jon Spencer Blues’ Explosion’s ’90s alt-rock classic “Bellbottoms,” which blasts through his earbuds during the ensuing car chase.

It’s a great opening sequence, and one that introduced a new generation to Spencer — an alternative-rock veteran whose Blues Explosion pre-dated Jack White’s splintering of funk, blues and garage punk.

The occasion also, though, was bittersweet. His Blues Explosion, which had been together since 1991, broke up shortly before “Baby Driver’s” release.

Coming up on two years later, Spencer is back with a brand-new act that bears his name: Jon Spencer and the HITmakers, which will perform at Neighborhood Theatre Sunday following the release of their first record, “Jon Spencer Plays the Hits.”

“I wasn’t too jazzed about making a solo record, or the idea of using my name as a solo artist,” he says of the collection, which does not actually contain old hits. But “it’s a short cut to let people know what it is.”

For the HITmakers, he recruited Quasi’s Sam Coomes and drummer Sord to record with him in the studio. They’re joined by Spencer’s former Pussy Galore bandmate Bob Bert on tour.

The players may have changed, but the vibe remains the same for Spencer as it was when he fronted the mighty Blues Explosion, as it was when he was one-half of the duo Heavy Trash, as it was when he played sideman in his wife Cristina’s band Boss Hog. That is to say: The legendary alt-rock showman is still unspooling funky, boogieing grooves.

As for inspiration, Spencer did something slightly out of character and went the political route. Political, but not too political.

Back in the ’80s, when he was submerged in the punk and hardcore scene of that era, he says, “I thought all adults were bad. ... Now, as an older, person I’m still making teenage music, I guess, but I feel so differently about what’s going on in D.C. and what’s happening to our world.”

So while most rock records he really loved as a younger man were not political, he took a leap with the new album, voicing his frustration with not only American politics, but with the apathy he observes in young musicians.

And yet, he says, “I didn’t make this thing thinking this is a chance to say my piece. I’m not a huge fan of political rock n’ roll. I’ve got to tread gingerly. I don’t like someone telling me which way to turn or what to think. I like to leave room for the listener to insert themselves.”

Still, he knows this approach isn’t necessarily the most effective way to get your message across.

“There’s some satisfaction to say or scream (what you think),” he continues, “but the real work is in protesting and calling representatives. Putting in the time.”

Jon Spencer & the HITmakers

When: 8 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.

Tickets: $17-$20.

Details: 704.942.7997; www.neighborhoodtheatre.com.

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