Tag Archives: Brassy

White Girls Can’t Jump

Brassy live at Double Door

Chicago, IL

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.

THE MUFFIN SPENCER BLUES EXPULSION

Brassy @ Double Door

Chicago, IL, 3/21

Brassy isn’t yr average hardcore/Kurtis Blow/funk/DIY rock collective. No wait, they are.

Brassy does two things very well. First, mouthpiece Muffin (sister of Jon) Spencer’s supreme belief in her band’s dominance over all comers is admirable. And the band is very adept at making tons of noise, even if the pieces don’t always fit together. When a glorified punk rock quartet gives its drummer double-duty on the wheels of steel, and sprinkles its tightly-wound booty anthems with amateurish MC’ing straight outta Whodini, something might be lost in the translation. At The Double Door Tuesday, Brassy’s inside joke never quite got over on a crowd unresponsive to their punkrock.com 2-minute drill.

Muffin’s hand-on-the-hip vocal posturing has a lot of sass. She knows what boys like, and what girls want, too. Guitar slung low on her hip like some kind of B-team female Han Solo, Spencer’s stage moves consisted of a cocky smirk coupled with a cat-scratching hand gesture, suggesting that this pussy had claws. While her guitar-playing was satisfactory, it was definitely Bono to Stefan Gordon’s careening wave-wall of distortion. His defeaning screed was complimented by Karen Frost’s capably funky basslines and Johnny Barrington’s drums. But wait! Barrington also plays the role of DJ Swett, his masked marvel alter ego who supplies Brassy’s electrofunk, gonna-make-you-sweat side. What was odd about this arrangement is that the group couldn’t afford another drummer to spell Swett’s while he was spinning. Instead, Barrington/Swett had to leap between his equipment like he was a contestant on an early, punk-dance incarnation of “American Gladiators.” Not really sure why this was so, but it didn’t add any cohesion to an already disjointed set.

While Brassy’s hardcore numbers suggested the sneering punk of (fellow Wiiija Record-mates) Huggy Bear, the addition of decks, samples, and white-girl raps was like watching Bratmobile if they’d grown up in 1980s Queens. At one point, my pal Phil Wise leaned over and said, “Someone’s been listening to The Plasmatics.” While no one in Brassy accessorized their nipples with electrical tape, that group’s hurried, style-over-substance approach to Rock and Roll reared its head during Brassy’s athletic 40-minute set. On record (Got It Made, Wiiija), Brassy’s confluence of styles works a little better, no doubt helped along by overdubbing DJ Swett’s electronic flourishes. But in the future, Muffin and her peeps should probably back up their bravado with a better, more succinct approach to their booty-rock mojo.

JTL