It's been three days since the concert, so I guess that it's safe to write a review now. I purposely waited a while, because I was SO taken with the shows that I knew that it'd take a while to write an objective review. Any sooner, and it would have been a non-stop rave. ;-) Yes, I did say "shows", in the plural. I liked the Friday show so very much that I drove down to Oxford, MS to see them again on Saturday.. but I'm getting ahead of myself.
What: Tav Falco's Panther Burns concert
Where: Barrister's (formerly the Antenna Club), Memphis, TN, U.S.A.
When: Friday, May 31, 1996
We got to the club at about 9pm. I'd never been to Barrister's before, and was unsure of when the music would start. The doors had just been opened, and we were told that the first act would play at 10:30. So we went down to Beale St. and hung out for a bit.. saw a pretty good band playing Blues on the street corner.
When we arrived back at Barrister's, the opening act was just warming up. They were a 'girl group' called Alluring Strange, and they played a sort of melodic semi-pop kind of Punk. They had their moments, including a way cool cover of "Poke Sallad Annie". They've got a CD coming out, and they'll be playing all over the eastern half of the country this summer. They're worth checking out, on a slow night. 1-1/2 stars.
I missed the start of the second act, so I didn't catch his name. I was told later that it was "Johnny America", but couldn't confirm it. Anyway, he was pretty darned good! He played a mean Les Paul, backed by drums and bass. He did all original songs, and seemed to fancy himself a sort of up-tempo Lou Reed. The last song was particularly impressive.. I didn't know that you could MAKE that much noise with one guitar! 2-1/2 stars.
Tav Falco's Panther Burns took the stage at about 10 minutes past midnight. 'Twas on this very stage that Tav honed his chops back in the late 70's, and he was obviously very much at home. The lineup was;
Tav Falco - guitar/lead vocals
George Reinecke - lead guitar
Eric Sanders - drums
Reginald West - bass/vocals
Tav played a Hofner violin-body guitar, black with a pearl pickguard. A -very- striking axe. He used a vintage amp, late 50's maybe, it was the Fender that's the next size smaller than a Bandmaster.. a Jazzmaster or something like that.
George Reinecke played a Gibson hollow body electric (an ES335, I think), and used a modern amp (which I never did identify). He also played a little slide, using a metal slide on his pinky. Once he grabbed a beer bottle and used that as a slide.
Eric Sanders played Gretsch drums, and a very basic kit, at that.
Reginald West played a beautiful Gibson hollow-body acoustic-electric bass. It was a sort of day-glo magenta color, but would change to an almost violet color when the light hit it right. He used a Peavey TNT-130 amp (miced to Barrister's great sound system, as were all the instruments).
The first few songs showed that we were in the presence of an awesome talent. Tav started off with several hot rockabilly numbers, with maybe the third or fourth one being the excellent "Brazil". At this point Tav began to slip in numbers from his latest album, _Shadow Dancer_. This album, for me, defies classification. The Rockabilly, Blues, R&B, and Latin influences are readily apparent, as is some C/W and Gospel.. but what it really is, is pop lounge-act music!
Remember, this stuff has electric guitars backing it, so it is NOT your father's lounge act, but it's a lounge act none the less. Anyone with the cajones to even TRY this in front of the Barrister's crowd earns my respect. When you actually make it WORK, as Tav did, you earn my awe and admiration.
Maybe 20% to 30% of the set consisted of such lounge numbers, and not a one fell flat. In addition, there were some tunes that could only be called R&B, despite the lack of horns. There were a couple of Country/Western songs, including the great "Funnel Of Love" from the new album. Heck, there was even a Gospel song, albeit with (highly!) secular lyrics. There were even a few sambas and tangos, done in a quite traditional style.
But the majority of the material was the Panther Burns' trademark brand of neo-rockabilly, songs such as "Cuban Rebel Girl", "Running Wild", "Teenage Heart", "Blind Man", and so on.
Sanders turned out to be an outstanding drummer, despite being a new addition to the band. And West is a rock-steady bassist, a journeyman who was not afraid to coax some feedback out of the big Gibson hollow-body on a few occasions. And Tav really made that Hofner sing, he gets a beautiful tone from the vintage Fender. He played mostly rhythm, but took a few solos, and they played dual leads on occasion.
But the real surprise was George Reinecke. What an astounding guitarist! This guy does it all, from Scotty Moore-style rocakabilly rave-ups to BB King blues, Duane Eddy twang-fests, Djangoesque jazz, Venture's surf, Van Halen shredding, and much more.. just amazing. "Versatile" must be this dude's middle name!
The first set ended at about 2:15. From the audience's reaction there was no doubt that there'd be an encore. And speaking of that audience; there were a lot of youngsters, but it was apparent that many old-school Panther Burns fans had come out for the show. We got an awfully nice rhythm going, banging beer bottles on the stage, and the band came back out after 10 minutes or so.
Tav began the second set by thanking the crowd for their support, and saying that "The Panther Burns are bums. Forget about us. We're not worthy." There was vocal disagreement with this from the crowd. Tav smiled, and launched into the second set.
This was, as it turns out, the -real- show. There were no lounge songs here, just some of the most intense Rock 'N' Roll that I have EVER heard. At times it was almost brutal. There were a couple of slower songs, "Snake Drive" and "Bourgeois Blues", for instance. But for the most part, it was a pure rock- abilly rave-up.
Former Panther Burns drummer Ross Johnson took over the drums for a couple of numbers during this set, and proved himself to be very capable on the skins. The break was certainly warranted for Sanders, as he's one of the hardest-working drummers that I've ever seen!
The second set ended at about 3:05. Since the Memphis liquor laws say that no drinks may be served after 3am, I figured that would be it. However, the crowd had other ideas. After 10 more minutes of screaming, shouting, foot-stomping, and stage banging, the band came back out once more.
Tav thanked everyone again, and told us that we were the best audience in the world. He then said that this had been a very special concert, and that he was really going to miss Memphis. The truth of this wouldn't hit home for me 'til about 21 hours later.
The third and last set consisted of just three songs. The first two were fairly mellow, with one being a particularly nice twangy number that put Bill Justis' "Raunchy" in mind. Tav obviously wanted to cool the crowd down a bit. Or so it seemed, 'til the last song. This was a full-blown warp-speed put-a-penny-in-the-fuses thrasher. Simply amazing! After they finished the last song, Tav held up his index finger and said "Panther Burns forever. We love you."
The last set ended at about 3:35am, and despite the crowds best efforts to coax another encore, that was that. I stuck around 'til about 4, and by that time the crowd had thinned enough that the band peeked out, and then began to pack up. There were still quite a few folks around, with lots of 'em wanting to congratulate the band. I figured that the guys must be worn out (I was!), so I contented myself with a handshake and a hearty "well done!"
All in all, this was the closest I've ever come to having a religious experience at a Rock 'N' Roll concert. A cliche, I know, but I don't know how else to put it. This was a very, very, VERY special show. Now, I've seen some high-powered bands in my day, but not a one of them could match, much less surpass what I saw that night. If it gets any better than this, I'd almost be scared to hear it! Five stars!
I'd found out about the second show a week before, from the folks at Shangri-La Records. I kept expecting that it would be announced at the Barrister's show, but they never did. I hadn't originally planned on attending both shows, but the first show was sooo good, I figured "why not". Plus, I wanted my son to be able to see Panther Burns..
What: Tav Falco's Panther Burns concert
Where: Proud Larry's, Oxford, Mississippi, U.S.A.
When: Saturday, June 1, 1996
Proud Larry's is another club that is unfamiliar to me (not too surprising as it's 60 miles away), so I called ahead to check the times, and also to make sure that I would be able to get a 17-year-old into the club. That was no problem, as it turned out, though I did have to make special arrangements with the manager. We arrived at about 8:15, and I was suprised to find that Proud Larry's was basically a supper club. Whoa! Talk about a total change in atmosphere, compared to the night before!
We timed our arrival perfectly. The stage was right by the front door, and as we walked in Tav was right there messing around with his amp. As soon as I'd paid the cover ($5), I walked over and said "Excuse me, Mr. Falco, I was wondering if I could have a word with you" as I simultaneously pulled his CD out of my breastpocket. THAT got a big smile out of him, and he was all too happy to autograph it.
I found Tav Falco to be a charming man, and spent better than 20 minutes talking with him. He was open and friendly, witty, and very intelligent and perceptive. I mentioned that I loved "She's A Bad Motorcycle", and my jacket sorta clued him in that I ride, so we got off onto motorcycles for a few minutes. Turns out Tav's an enthusiastic motorcyclist with a special liking for Nortons. My kinda guy!
He was surprised when I told him that I'd seen the show the night before, and said something like "Last night was a very special show. I'm afraid that tonight will be a disappointment for you." He hinted that this show would be more laid-back. I was quite taken aback by this, at first. But looking around, I could see Tav's point. If any club ever screamed "Yuppie College Bar", this was it!
Tav had copies of his new CD (_Shadow Dancer_) on hand, so I bought one and had him autograph that one, too. He had some words of encouragement for my son the budding musician ("Play what's in your heart.."). About that time the bassman came up and reminded Tav that the show started soon, and there were still preparations to make, he was actually getting into talking with us, it seems, and had forgotten the time. So we bid him adieu, and found a table (right up front!).
Seeing as how it WAS a supper club, we got a couple of (most excellent!) grilled chicken sandwiches. They kicked off their set as I was about half-way through the sandwich, and it sounded great, if not nearly as loud as the night before.
The first few songs were fairly mellow rockabilly numbers, and when they got to the first duplication from the previous night's set list, it became apparent that Tav had NOT been kidding.. this would be a more restrained and low-key show. In fact, maybe 50% of the set was comprised of the 'lounge songs', plus sambas, and tangos. And a few more songs were sung in Italian and Spanish, too.
At first, this bothered me a bit. But you can't let it all hang out EVERY night, and the performance must depend on the venue and the audience, to a degree. Plus, it was apparent that Tav was *getting*into* this material with a passion. I soon accepted it, and thoroughly enjoyed the show. For all that the performance was more laid back, this was a much -better- atmosphere in which to appreciate Tav's abilities with 'lounge songs', ballads and torch songs. The man is a VERY accomplished singer!
And the crowd ate it up. Tav was clearly playing this audience of college-town sophisticates, as surely as he was playing his guitar.. whether they knew it or not. I did run into a few old-time fans, including a couple of diehard Alex Chilton fans who expected that he would be playing with the Panther Burns. They were -very- disappointed when I told 'em that Chilton wasnt around..
The band DID do a great job on the rockabilly and other up-tempo numbers. If anything, they were even tighter and more precise than the night before. In the old days the Panther Burns apparently were like a dull hatchet to the head. The night before, at Barrister's, they were more like a keen broadsword. Continuing the analogy, this performance could only be called a scalpel of finest surgical steel.
But they WERE missing some energy compared with the Memphis show. I had originally considered skipping that show, and going to only this show. BOY am I glad that I didn't do that! Though I enjoyed the Oxford show, it was NOT the intense once-in-a-lifetime experience of the previous night. Tav obviously knew of what he spoke, before the show. And perversely, I was glad that I'd come to this show, so that I would understand just HOW special the Memphis show had been. I mean, otherwise I might have thought that the Barrister's show was normal for the Panther Burns. In reality, I doubt that ANY band can be so perfect, so 'on' -every- night.
The band 'finished' the set at 11:45. There were no wings to retreat to, so they sort of huddled for a minute or two, then played the 'encore'. This was definitely the hardest rockin' of the night, and ALMOST approached the level of intensity of the Memphis show. They ended the show promptly at 12:00, and that was that (the laws are tough in Mississippi).
The joint cleared out amazingly quick, and we hung out with the band for a half-hour or so. The drummer, Eric Sanders, turned out to be a prince of a guy, and he and my son put their heads together, and he was generous with advice on how Bobby should approach his musical career. I talked at length with George Reinecke. What a great guy! Ever notice how the -truly- talented are often the most humble, unassuming individuals that you can imagine? Any way, I found out that George had dropped off a consignment of CD's by his own band (Busted Flush) at Shangri-La, so I called down there and they've got copies reserved for me. I can hardly wait! I also gave Reinecke's my email address, and so hopefully hell contact me so I can pass along this review..
Also talked with Tav for a bit more. Judging by the depth and breadth of his knowledge and interests, and his obvious love of the music, Im beginning to think that musicologist fits Tav better than musician. Regardless of what one might think about the way he deconstructs roots music, theres no doubt that he has a deep love and respect for the original article.
I told him the bit about him having cajones el grande for being willing to do the lounge numbers in front of a crowd that was there for Rock 'N' Roll. He smiled and said "That didn't happen overnight". "I can well imagine", I says, "You'd give Sinatra himself a run for the money". He seemed pleased that I could appreciate the full spectrum of his interests, and we parted.
All in all, a curious experience. One that pointed out that while intensity and abandon can make for a very special show, it's not the -only- way to do the job. When all's said and done, I wouldn't have missed this second show for love nor money. Four stars!
This material was originally posted on
Fidonet and the Internet on 6-3-96
Ricky Lee McBroom