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Jim Jones Revue on Sweatily Reviving Fifties Piano Rock

Anyone planning to see British garage-rockers Jim Jones Revue live should prepare for a night of sweaty catharsis: On songs like "Rock n’ Roll Psychosis,” the band’s namesake front man vamps like a preacher who’s outgrown his pulpit, unleashing a batshit-banshee howl over a scuzzy din of barreling piano and Detroit guitars. It’s a primal mix of fifties boogie-woogie and seventies fuzz — as though the Killer and the Cramps were competing in some inter-dimensional bake-off for each other’s souls. Following a breakthrough set at this spring’s SXSW festival — where the group played to such punk luminaries as Nuggets curator Lenny Kaye and the New York Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain — Jim Jones Revue embarks on a maiden U.S. tour this month, with a stop scheduled for La Poisson Rouge on September 14. We spoke with front man Jones and guitarist Rupert Orton (brother of electro-folkie Beth Orton).

Both of you are veterans of London’s garage-rock scene — Rupert as a promoter, and Jim as front man of the now-defunct Black Moses. What inspired you to start a boogie-woogie act?
Jones: We both had this idea of what it must have been like to be in New Orleans in the mid-fifties and see Little Richard playing. That was an inspiring image to us: This gay black man screaming about sex in this highly racist time and place. We just thought that was a very exciting image, and I guess that galvanized us.
Orton: One of the strange ironies of what we do is that, [when] younger kids hear it, they think it’s a revolutionary new kind of music, when obviously what we’re doing is going way back. Somewhere along the line, the actual core of where things came from got lost. Why that happened, I dunno; maybe music got more oriented around technology. But it feels natural for us to bring it right back to the source.

Do audiences need time getting used to hearing fifties piano in a hard-rock setting?
Orton: We played a heavy-metal festival in northern Spain in the fall of last year, where we were the only rock-and-roll band on the bill. But it was still good fun. They fucking loved it.
Jones: That’s the thing with this band: Everywhere we play, you get these people who take a few seconds and then — bang! — they’ve got it. It’s pretty easy to understand, musically, and it’s easy to dance to. Playing live is a gladiatorial sport, and we take it seriously. We wring the sweat. There’s puddles on the floor.

You’ve only been playing for a few years, but you’ve already earned some big-name boosters: Jack White, Duane Eddy, Mick Jones. Any particular run-in that sticks out?
Orton: I remember coming offstage at SXSW and meeting Sylvain Sylvain and shaking his hands, which was really incredible, just as somebody whose records I really admired when I was young. And Mick Jones is really nice. He’s a straight up-and-down geezer, a regular bloke. Out in London, you don’t have to be at a big to club to see him. He went to see us at a club that was 150 capacity.

Finally, I have to ask: Is Jim Jones your real name?
Jones: Yep.

I imagine you’ve gotten some funny looks while traveling the States.
Jones: When we went through immigration in Texas, the guy going through my passport and details asked me if I brought any Kool-Aid with me. I thought it was going to be quite serious, but he was rather lighthearted about the whole thing.

Photo: Jo Hale/Getty Images