A case of strep throat prevented Carl Perkins from headlining at Louie's Rock City last night. But Perkins' pioneering spirit hung over the proceedings as NRBQ and Evan Johns & the H-Bombs played sets of untamed, irresistable rockabilly. Between Johns and NRBQ, Root Boy Slim & Cryin' Out Loud digressed into a demented form of funk.

NRBQ (the New Rhythm & Blues Quartet) has devoted its career to keeping alive the best and rowdiest of America's indigenous music. The band has often played with Perkins and provided his rockabilly spirit in all its authenticity last night. Joined by the Whole Wheat Horns, NRBQ gave their country, jazz, blues and rock basics a slap-happy beat and giddy excitement.

One expects NRBQ to be exciting: the contagious energy of Evan Johns & the H-Bombs was an unexpected benefit. This new Northern Virginia quartet blasted its way into the primitive origins of rock 'n' roll with no concessions to sophistication. Wearing a greased pompadour and a white jacket, Johns escalated the twitch and twang of early rockabilly to the brink. j

Root Boy Slim quickly grew tiresome as he hoarsely showed rambling comic absurdities. Much better was his band, Cryin' Out Loud, which played compelling rhythm & blues. Best of all was Ron Holloway, whose tenor sax solos showed the quick wit of jazz and sure beat of soul.