Monday, September 19, 2011
While yours truly was in Brighton and otherwise disposed Mr D'uff was on the trail of Tav Falco... I just noticed that all the links he put in here have disappeared on the transfer to blogger. Bugger.
Sugar Ditch (and more) Revisited
Possibly the first record I ever bought by mail order – back in the days when you went to the post office, bought a postal order and sent it off with a letter to your chosen dealer was "The World We Knew" by Tav Falco & his Panther Burns. I already knew them by reputation and their track on the "Rockabilly Psychosis" compilation plus it was on the esteemed and reliable New Rose label so it was an informed investment. “The World We Knew” was a great package, gatefold sleeve, each track had a photo and an annotation by Mr Falco and it sounded like no other rock’n’roll record I had ever heard then or since.
Shortly thereafter I bought Fan Club’s reissue of “Behind The Magnolia Curtain”. When it arrived in the post it had a 12” EP titled "Blow Your Top" in the package with it that I was not expecting. This month sees the 30th (!) anniversary of the first ever release of these two records and to celebrate this happy event, a reissue on Stag-O-Lee records and a tour of sorts by Tav Falco and the current incarnation of the Unapproachable Panther Burns.
I had looked into booking the band to play my hometown of Edinburgh, but things being what they are, and my pocket book being unable to sustain the risk of such a venture, I decided it was less costly, and less hassle to see the two UK dates, last Thursday at London’s 100 Club and Saturday at The Cluny in Newcastle.
As I enter the 100 Club, first band (and Stag-O-Lee label mates), Miraculous Mule are already on the stage. One of those heavy, swampy, yowling blues-punk (there, I think those are the standard adjectives for these bands – CD) combos that either catch fire or don’t. In this case they didn’t. Too loud – perhaps because the venue was near empty, too leaden and I couldn’t really hear anything that sounded like a song. On another night, they may be great. Just not tonight.
I use the time to say hello to Giovanna, the Panther Burns drummer – who I vaguely know from the last time the Panther Burns played Newcastle in, I think, 2005 and meet Tav, who I’ve never met before but had corresponded with on the aborted Edinburgh gig.
The 100 Club gig wasn’t a ‘professionally’ promoted thing, more the result of a bunch of friends and associates of the band pulling together to put the show on. As a result, it’s a fairly busy bill and next up is Mr Sterling Roswell himself, I think a former occasional Panther Burn (Sterling, am I correct?). Due to time constraints - the gig has to end by 11pm-, Sterling only sings two songs, aided by acoustic guitar and effects. There’s a new spooky lonesome ode to something and the big hit (or at least a song I’ve heard him play before) ‘Nobody Loves The Hulk’. Both great and entirely in keeping with the main event.
If you don’t know Sterling’s sterling work, do as he suggested from the stage and Google him, he’s made some great records. He may also have Glasgow/Edinburgh shows very soon. Watch this space for details.
Now if I could have picked a band that I ‘took an interest in’ back at the time I bought “The World We Knew” that was quite unsuited to supporting a Panther Burns show, I may have easily alit on say… King Kurt . When I was 14/15 years old King Kurt actually played the Club Nightspot in Falkirk, two streets from my home. But… my mum wouldn’t let me go. To paraphrase another great Scot, I wanna be a psychobilly but my mammy willnae let me.
But to my great surprise, some 20-odd years later, I finally get to see King Kurt in the somewhat more historic setting of the 100 Club. And, to my greater surprise, they are not actually that bad at all! It’s a short set (perhaps mercifully) but with the exception of the absence of a barbers chair offering King Kurt haircuts, a spinning wheel to which band/audience members may be tied, and the kind of mess they are known for then it’s pretty much as I imagine they’ve always sounded. Songs included "She’s As Hairy", "Zulu Beat", "Ghost Riders" and of course "Destination Zululand". I should at this stage perhaps point out that this is the ONLY gig I have ever attended where there were signs around the hall saying
“NO THROWING OF FLOUR, PIG’S HEADS, INTESTINES, ETC. ON STAGE TONIGHT. ANYONE CAUGHT DOING SO WILL BE REMOVED FROM THE PREMISES.”
I would normally consider this simply part of the implicit contract between venue and punter but suppose if King Kurt are playing, it doesn’t hurt to make it more explicit. (thanks to PJ for the photo of the sign, I wish I’d stolen one).
Thankfully no one chooses to flout the instruction and the stage stays clean for the approach of the wholly unapproachable Panther Burns and their chief shaman Tav Falco. Mr Falco has by this time changed into an electric blue peak lapelled suit with a black velvet collar and leopard print cuffs. It’s a two part show, a sort of Panther Burns then and now I suppose. The first set comprised of songs from “Behind The Magnolia Curtain” and “Blow Your Top” and opens with "River Of Love" (I think?) smartly followed by “She’s The One That Got It”, “Snake Drive”, “Rio De Rosa”, “Pantherman”, “Oooeee Baby” (which we find out they learned from The Cramps - surprising considering it is a Memphis record), “You’re Undecided” and more.
Not one of those ‘play the classic record from beginning to end’ shows, more of a fluid and informal look through the back catalogue. The four piece was relaxed and sound like a band that possibly had never played together before at all but like a band that has always played together at the same time. No mean feat and testament to their unique sound. I recall a Ralph Traitor review of a Panther Burns show in the late 80’s which he opened with “If you have ever curiously regarded a pile of toenail clippings and wondered what they might actually sound like…” and that’s as obscure and as clear a description as I could muster.
There are a couple or three points in the schedule where I get the distinct impression from the confused glances between the musicians that someone in the band, Tav probably, is going their own way with the songs but it all somehow, gloriously works.
Tav leaves the stage and the band lock into a weird instrumental that has something of a tighter groove than the previous numbers and in a few short minutes, their leader is back on stage in a new and shinier suit for the second part of the show, the newer material. Although Tav refers to the newest record "Conjurations: Séance for Deranged Lovers” a couple of times, it’s not by any means wholly drawn from that record and contains a selection of hits from the whole history of the band. They’re joined on stage by a keyboardist (from Rome, I never caught his name) who adds some weird high pitched hidden melody to the sound. Even so, with the exception that these tunes leave the rockabilly references a little further behind and bring the Southern (and old European) gothic romance fervor of the band to the fore, there’s little to distinguish the two sets in style. As Lux Interior would say, I never bought the myth of musical progression anyway, if it ain’t broke (or indeed, baroque) why fix it, huh?
I’m going home on the 11.15pm so I had to leave around 10.50 as Tav is writhing on the floor pulling feedback and distortion out of his Hofner during an extended "Gentleman in Black". Never mind, second verse same as the first, we’ll do it all again in Newcastle on Saturday.
The Cluny website, like that of the 100 Club, asserts that “the curfew for gigs is usually 11pm”. If it weren’t for that weasel word ‘usually’, I would be having words myself with the Cluny promoters. The Panther Burns weren’t even halfway through by 11pm. I had booked my train down from Edinburgh to get me into the toon at 6.30, met up with pals (including the only two other people from Scotland to make the trek) for a great Greek feast and had a seat booked on the 23.10 Megabus home.
We strolled into the Cluny about half past 9 and saw the band sitting across from us enjoying a glass of wine. They graciously ask us to join them and when they order substantial desserts, I get the distinct impression that they are not likely to be on stage any time soon. After they head backstage to prepare, I take a listen to the support band but it’s another sub-Birthday Party squalling noise and I’m not impressed enough to actually bend my head round the door to look at them. I later bump into old acquaintances Russell and The Wolves and realise that it’s basically them under a new name.
Next up, Brian Coyotemen (who deserves plenty respect for arranging this thing), does a one-man rockabilly band type thing. I’ve seen a lot of these one-man-band things now, and it’s a little difficult to care that much. He certainly wasn’t the worst I’ve seen, and a good deal better than several who have records out and a degree of status, so fair play to him. I was, however, biting my nails to hear the howl of the Panther Burn.
I’m in the bar when I hear the opening rumble and me and North-East homies make tracks for the main hall where the band have already taken the stage. I can’t remember what they played first, my attention being almost wholly taken up with the rather eye-catching outfit sported by Giovanna, but after that it’s into “She’s The One That Got It” and a similar set to the 100 Club show. Despite persistent pestering from me and the possibly more persuasive Inge Johnson, we did not get to hear “I’m On This Rocket”, probably the standout track from “Blow Your Top”. Tav surely heard our pleas but the backward steps he took every time we spoke to his feet indicated that he was choosing not to.
The band were on better form, perhaps loosened by the later performance or just more settled in and there are none of the confused looks at the opening of the songs. There were fewer breaks and more urgency or maybe I had just had more wine. Tav doesn’t change outfit during the break this time, just hovering offstage while the band play the instrumental that signifies the change from then to now.
I suppose I ought to mention the other highlight of both shows, the appearance during “Drop Your Mask” of the most fetching apparition of a young lady name Thea to perform a Tango dance recital with Tav himself. It’s hard to explain if you weren’t there but it seemed as normal and as weird as you can imagine.
By this time I have more than missed my bus home but don’t worry, I wasn’t stranded on a dateless night, I had a pal to stay over with. The show probably didn’t end until at least half past 12 so I took the view that I need to just deal with it and see the whole thing through. Geting back the next day was a travel nightmare, I won’t bore you with the details but don’t try to use public transport in the North-East on the morning that 40,000 people are headed for the Great North East Run.
In any case, whining aside, if you want to see a band that truly understands what is great and special and plays it like it was a feeling expressed in sound rather than a set of sounds and motifs to copy and reference, then this is it. Possibly the truest rock’n’roll band to play this country since… ooohhh… the last time Panther Burns played here.
Lindsay, I hope the Bambi Molesters in Brighton were worth it.