Tav Falco was post-modern when post-modern wasn’t cool. The singer-guitarist, who has collaborated with filmmaker Kenneth Anger and rockabilly pioneer Charlie Feathers, has spent much of the past two decades crafting a revisionist pop culture history — one that seamlessly fuses the aesthetics of Dean Martin and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Always one for a smooth entrance, the sharkskin-clad, Chaplin-mustached Falco sauntered to within spitting distance of the stage as his bandmates launched into the spaghetti-western instrumental “Invocation of the Shadow Dancer.” And while he did contribute several oddball solos to the mix, Falco didn’t take the stage until that tune gave way to a version of the teen-death melodrama “Endless Sleep,” which was campy and creepy enough to have warmed the cockles of David Lynch.
While best known for tightly wound versions of rockabilly obscurities — Cordell Jackson, a particular favorite of Falco’s, was the source of three tunes, including “She’s the One Who’s Got It” — the band proved even more compelling when pushing further into the backwoods.
To that end, a hypnotically chugging version of delta blueswoman Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “Streamline Train” got a rise out of the initially restrained audience when it was uncorked midway through the set. That tune’s uneasy blend of rustic beauty and netherworld stealthiness was echoed in an encore rendition of Skip James’ “Cypress Grove Blues.”
What separates Panther Burns from the ever-growing crop of revivalist primitives, however, is Falco’s veneration of the smooth, swelling sounds of Italian pop — visited here in a brace of interchangeable ditties — as well as the wide-screen drama of soundtrack ephemera like “Goldfinger.” Those digressions play out well on record, and while they impart a certain air of dislocation in concert, they slowed the band’s momentum significantly at this perf — a situation that took several songs to remedy. But the quartet did just that on the chiming garage-rocker “Girl After Girl” (one of the few songs in the set that didn’t carry dark baggage) and the erotically jumpy “Shade Tree Mechanic.”
Panther Burns play Los Angeles on April 27.