Chicago Sun Times

Enigmatic Spencer emerges from the shadows
REVIEW | Fleetwood Mac dropout serves up tasteful blues set

July 13, 2008

Jeremy Spencer just can't escape the shadows.

Nearly two hours into his tasteful blues set Friday night at FitzGerald's in Berwyn, somebody called out "Fleetwood Mac!" The chant picked up steam, so he announced, "They're not playing here tonight. And I assure you their tickets are a lot more."

The Fleetwood Mac that most casual fans know is the mid-'70s hit-making machine led by Buckingham-Nicks. Spencer had walked away from the group in 1971 before a Los Angeles gig, when a Christian cult called the Children of God swept him off the street.

And even in dropping out of society, he was overshadowed by wunderkind Mac co-founder Peter Green, he of the British megahits "Albatross" and "Black Magic Woman" (covered by Santana). Green's own burnout came first, and was more dramatic and highly publicized. Spencer appeared with the seminal British blues-rock outfit in January '71, when the band opened for Mountain at the Syndrome (the old Coliseum). His two Chicago area gigs last week were probably his first since that night.

He released a few solo albums in the 1970s to little fanfare, then basically disappeared until his 2006 Blind Pig album "Precious Little," which he drew heavily from at FitzGerald's. The week of his re-emergence, wouldn't you know it? Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett, rock's all-time burnout, stole his thunder with his demise.

The enigmatic Brit was backed by an enthusiastic Norwegian four-piece band called, yes, the Vikings, along with rock-solid Chicago drummer Marty Binder. Finally with a moment in the spotlight, Spencer made the most of it, playing syrupy-sweet slide guitar and singing standards by his heroes Elmore James and Otis Rush, along with well-crafted, timely original tunes that reflect his religious underpinnings.

Diminutive and professorial-looking, Spencer was the anti-cultist as he joked with the crowd, deferred to the Norwegian mates he met a few years ago at a blues festival and chugged "pharmaceutical-quality" H2O. His bluesman's braggadocio came out on "Dr. J" and "All Around Man," and his reading of Rush's "Double Trouble" was straight from the heart. A highlight was the achingly beautiful "Maria de Santiago," inspired by a visit to Mexico.

Let's hope that Spencer, who turned 60 on the Fourth of July, passes this way again sooner rather than later.