Tav Falco once said of his band's renditions of blues and rockabilly: "Sometimes Panther Burns gets that sound; sometimes people think we're just making noise." Panther Burns' show at the 9:30 club Saturday night offered exactly the kind of adventurous primitivism that New Wave promises but rarely delivers. In other words, sometimes they got "that sound," sometimes they made noise, but they were always inspired enough to redeem their eccentricity and ragged musical interplay.
Led by Falco, a carnival-barking beatnik photographer-cum-rockabilly, the four-piece Memphis group rambled over obscure Southern rock 'n' roll and blues, searching for the crude rhythms and chaotic instrumental passages that made these forms outsiders' music to begin with. Whether it was a sinister and hypnotic blues like "Snake Drive" or a manic tango like "Drop Your Mask," the band's disjointed and clanging guitar attack seemed to capture some of the deepest and darkest musical secrets of the Old South.
If Falco's vocals were occasionally strained and off-key, more than enough spiritual compensation was offered in his urgent, sometimes desperate delivery and nutsy dancing. And if the whole thing threatened to fall apart at any moment, it is exactly this unpredictable edge that makes Panther Burns a passionately modern band rather than professional revivalists.