Although proving themselves capable of occasional bursts of swamp-beat hoodoo and sheets o' duel-guitar fire at the Music Machine on Thursday, Tav Falco's Panther Burns was nowhere near the bug-eyed, crazy sub-Cramps train-wreck horror show upon which the Memphis quartet's cult reputation rests.
Of course, playing to a grand total of maybe 75 people doesn't exactly make for the most inspired evening, either. One thing that can be said in Falco and company's favor, however, is that they didn't simply survey the box-office receipts and promptly proceed to sleepwalk through their 75-minute set.
Now and then augmented by a pink-plastic-mini-skirted backing vocalist who banged a tambourine while maintaining that appropriately vacuous expression not often seen since the halcyon daze of flower-child actress Mimsy Farmer, the foursome segued from straight-faced renditions of $35-and-up rockabilly rarities to rough-hewn versions of unreleased demos from soulman Sir Mack Rice's catalogue to a handful of backwards country blues numbers.
They also threw in a smoldering takeoff on what kids nowadays know as the theme song to the "Brazil" movie, a reverential workout on Kip Tyler & the Flips '59 trash-rock masterpiece "She's My Witch," and a buncha other stuff you might expect from a band whose spiv-like leader packs a hair-raising pompadour, a violin-shaped guitar and two-tone shoes.
Devotees of the style may want to pick up on the group's most recent import album, "The World We Knew," which not only contains a way-round-the-bend treatment of the title track (a '67 Sinatra hit), but also benefits greatly from the ghostly production efforts of another, larger, Memphis semi-legend, Alex Chilton. Live, 'twas in the immortal words of the Shangri-Las, "Good-bad, but not evil." Falco and Panther Burns play Raji's in Hollywood tonight.