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Jazzbones hosts blues bands before sending them to Memphis

The Emerald City Blues Band is one of several heading to Memphis. Photo credit: South Sound Blues Association

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It took me years before I would even bother to look up the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, let alone listen to it. Just hearing the name was enough to turn me off. When I finally did make the time to listen, I realized that they were an absolutely batsh@* crazy soup of rock, blues, punk, noise and utter weirdness. Why was I so afraid to give them a shot? Because their name gave me flashbacks to the band featured in the great Ghost World.

Steve Buscemi's character arrives at a club to see a beloved blues guitarist play to an apathetic crowd of sports bar patrons, only to see them light up at the all-white headlining act, Blueshammer, who proceed to do an abominable song about "picking cotton all day long." It's a snide and very effective summation of the direction that the blues genre has been cornered into after so many decades: people come in and appropriate it, lending lame electric guitars and phony affectations to one of the purest American musical genres ever conceived. Blueshammer wasn't just a gag in a movie, but rather an encapsulation of every wrongheaded move perpetrated by people who love "all music," as opposed to people who actually have opinions.

Blues has never been my favorite genre, but there's no denying its importance, nor its simple, powerful pleasures. Kurt Cobain saw as much, when he introduced much of the alternative music world to blues with his impassioned cover of Lead Belly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." Because the passions of earlier generations tend to get lost in translation (listen to "I Heard Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye, again, and really hear that palpable pain), it took Nirvana to shine a light on the agony of Lead Belly's original song.

While the mainstream has either perverted or ignored blues, that doesn't mean that the rest of the world has forgotten it. Yes, the styles have evolved over the years, spreading out over the US and even into other nations (gasp!), but the underlying formula remains the same. In fact, this is a genre that values style and emotion over most things.

In Tacoma, there are several acts gearing up to head down to Memphis, where they will engage in the most bloodthirsty of sports: competitive blues. There is an event in Memphis called the International Blues Challenge, and Jazzbones is looking to raise funds for the trip for a couple of Tacoma's best blues acts. King Kom Beaux, a trio of Louisiana-style blues, will be performing Sunday, in an event to help get them down to Tennessee. Doug Skoog and Brian Feist will also be present.

The main draw for me, though, is the Emerald City Blues Band, which is made up of young folks, and will be taking part in the Youth Showcase at the International Blues Challenge. It's never too early, after all, to teach young people to express their misery through music. Kurt Cobain was smart enough to do it through punk and blues, like Jon Spencer but without the whimsy.

Jazzbones, w/Doug Skoog, Brian Feist, Emerald City Blues Band, CD Woodbury Band, King Kom Beaux, Sunday, Nov. 1 5-10 p.m., $10, 2803 6th Ave, Tacoma, 253.396.9169,

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