"Have you heard the news?" Joe Ely asked the Bayou crowd last night. $1"There's 'Good Rockin' Tonight!" Ely then twitched and twanged his way through the Elvis Presley classic with a style that started in country music and then jumped to something beyond. With his strange brew of honky-tonk country, raw rockabilly and tender Tex-Mex, Ely isn't a crossover country artist; he's a transcendent country artist. Which is very good news indeed.
Most of Ely's septet are from Lubbock, Tex., the home town of Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings and Ely. Like Holly and Jennings, they grew up loving country music (and those late-night Mexican radio stations) but wanted something a bit more agressive. They sure got it, thanks to Ely's hot-wire voice, Jesse Taylor's razorlike guitar playing and a generally unsettling rhythum section. Dressed like the cowboy he once was, Ely delivered sincere country confessionals but blew away any trace of fatalism with the explosive catharsis of his own "Musta Notta Gotta Lotta."
Opening the show was Switchblade -- four alumni of Tex Rubinowitz's rockabilly bands. Though they're good primitive instrumentalists, they haven't a strong voice among them, and they seemed lost without their former leader.