TVD Live: Tav Falco and His Panther Burns at The Runaway, 9/21

Rock ’n’ roll is a sound and it is a style, and Tav Falco’s been straddling both since the late 1970s.

The latest version of Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, on a cross country tour, stopped at The Runaway in DC for a midweek show that was strangely mesmerizing and altogether rocking thanks largely to his straight-outta-Rome backing trio led by Mario Monterosso. At 77, Falco doesn’t look all that different than he did when Alex Chilton joined forces with him to form Panther Burns back in Memphis. Minus his pencil mustache, he’s maintained his black pompadour, and certainly his style.

With only a subtle croon, he does a lot with his moves, taking the stage with maracas—that forgotten engine of old Bo Diddley songs—before slowly putting on his Hofner guitar to add rhythm to the stinging lead that Monterosso had already nailed down (the length of time it took him to get the guitar over his head and adjusted was the only giveaway to his advancing age).

There’s a lot to be said about the guy’s taste. Panther Burns got its name after a legendary cat set afire on a Southern plantation, and the band has similarly mined the swampy and mysterious sounds of the American South for its inspiration.

There was so much ground to cover, Falco played exactly nothing from his latest release, the 2021 EP “Club Car Zodiac” on ORG Music. Instead he dived into his story about a New Orleans voodoo queen and his version of the classic bolero “Sway” before the somewhat surprising, straight ahead version of the Honeycombs’ 1964 chart topper “Have I the Right?” with a 1-2-3-4 countdown right from the Ramones. Then, as if another inspired turn of a jukebox, over to the 1950s country standard “He’ll Have to Go,” before his own throbbing tune of existential anguish, as he described it, “Born Too Late.”

Perhaps because he was in Washington, he pulled out his version of Lead Belly’s “Bourgeois Blues,” the bluesman’s screed on the District of Columbia, as true today as it was in 1937. It was Falco’s 1978 performance of that tune that ended with a chainsawed guitar that first got Chilton interested in working with him. In tribute to the lauded singer of Big Star (and the Box Tops before it), he played Chiton’s “Bangkok,” which included a bit of the Ramones’ “Chinese Rock” to extend the Asian theme.

The stylish Falco had to go the length of the barroom to get to and from the backstage for the encore. And as the band coaxed him out (wearing a mask) with an instrumental “Ghost Riders in the Sky” mixed with a little “Telstar,” he closed with his rave up “Girl After Girl.”

It seemed like a longer than usual set than the band had been doing and the pleasure was extended further with a tasty opening instrumental set from Monterosso, the Italian guitarist now transplanted to Memphis and his band of fellow Italians, bassist Guiseppe Sangirardi and drummer Walter Brunetti.

Obviously fans clearly steeped in classic rock ’n’ roll, the trio provided stinging versions of tunes from “Pipeline” to “Rumble” to the Shadows, while the trio mixed in their own worthy originals from an album called Take It Away.

The evening began with a strong showing from Des Demonas, the acclaimed DC punk band that was performing for some reason under the alias Fes Femonas (perhaps a contractual thing so not to conflict with other gigs coming up?).

At any rate it was the same faces, grounding a punk drive with garage-rock tones—thanks to the Farfisa colors from Paul Vivari. Mostly the band is led by the guitar of Mark Cisneros, who also played for Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds (Congo also played for The Cramps, who shared more than a couple bills with Falco back in the day).

What sets the band apart further even more are the arresting lead vocals of Jacky Cougar Abok, a 6-foot-5 Kenyan whose blunt chants gain power on repetition and commands more attention when he suddenly gives rapid-fire lyrics, as on their convincing “The South Will Never Rise Again.”

It made for a solid night top to bottom as it married mid-Atlantic punk to the weirdo Southern gothic rockabilly of Falco.

SETLIST
Sleepwalk
About Marie Laveau
Sway (Nelson Pinedo cover
Have I the Right?
He’ll Have to Go
Born Too Late
Me and My Chauffeur Blues
Bourgeois Blues
Strange (Libertango)
Treat Me Nice
Go Home (Throw That Blade Away)
The Ballad of Rue de la Lune
Bangkok
Cuban Rebel Girl
Master of Chaos

Ghost Riders in the Sky / Telstar
Girl After Girl

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