Brassy live at Double Door
March 20, 2001
Let’s get it out in the open. The lead singer for Brassy, Muffin Spencer, is Jon Spencer’s, (he of the Blues Explosion) sister. Ok? We can’t ignore it. Why try? Sure, Muffin gets a little steamed from time to time when people always ask what Brother Jon is up to, but c’mon. He’s Jon Fucking Spencer!
Now, Muffin decided to do things her own way. She packed up and moved to England years ago to start her own band. Pussy Galore be damned with their punched-up New York Dolls impressions. Our Muffin was up to something else.
I don’t know how old Muffin is, but I’d guess she’s old enough to remember most of the Sugar Hill artists of the early 80s and ALL of the new wave artists of that same time. Mix that together with a pinch of punk a la Buzzcocks or even a touch of the Plazmatics and you have Brassy. That’s great. Everyone loves it when new sounds are created from tried and true genres. But that’s where Brassy falls short.
Throughout the 40-odd minute set, Muffin did her damndest to get people to shake their rumps or at least pump their fists, but aside from one portly fellow with a striking resemblance to Kelsey Grammer, it just wasn’t happening. Mainly because of the poor sound quality that Double Door is too often associated with, but also to the fact that Brassy can’t pull off a hybrid of hip hop, new wave and punk.
Guitarist, Stefan Gordon, is capable and had some great early 70s soul effects throughout most of the set and bassist Karen Frost does her job in typical riot grrl (I’ll bet you thought that was over, eh?) fashion with just enough detached attitude and growling bass to make the guys go wild. That alone is the foundation of a great sound and would be perfectly rounded out with tight drumming and a gregarious front woman/man. But Brassy just misses.
Drummer/DJ Jonny Barrington is the perfect minimalist punk drummer. Simple, three-piece set and excellent fills. He’s also a decent DJ with some creative mixing and tight, albeit standard, scratching. But he can’t do both; try as he may. The switches between drum kit and turntables were often awkward and distracting. They sometimes threw the whole band for a couple of bars. To really pull off this sound I think Brassy needs a drummer AND a DJ. I mean, is Jonny the only game in town? Get that sorted out and you really have some balls and the spark of something really hot. That alone will almost get the ass shaking.
Which brings us back to Muffin. Glorious Noise contributor Johnny Loftus told me he had heard that Muffin was a sassy bitch, much like her older brother (sorry Muffin. That’s the last reference to him). Well, sassy ain’t enough to lead a band. You also need some charisma. Parroting 20-year-old rap anthems (B to the R to the A to the S to the S to the Y) works for the Beastie Boys who have a deeper box of trick than Carrot Top. Muffin fails to dig deeper and ends up sounding like a 1987 white comedian making fun of rap on the Tonight Show. Until there is some sense of real emotion and attachment to her music, Brassy will always sound like the white liberal kids who dig black music but can’t play it in the house until dad goes to work.
Luckily, headliners Idlewild took the stage within ten minutes of Brassy’s departure and final got the crowd to shake their asses—and the band didn’t even have to ask.
That’s your cue Johnny.