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Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, At The Airliner, Friday, August 25, 2022

Tav Falco
Tav Falco

From what I could gather about him, Tav Falco is a globetrotter and a man with multiple facets: he has been a photographer, an actor, an author, a filmmaker – he has mostly documented Memphis underground music scene – and he is also a musician, a singer, a guitarist, and an impressive performer since the late ‘70s. In 1979, he formed the group Panther Burns, named after a panther that was terrorizing a Mississippi plantation, and played alongside Box Tops/Big Star frontman Alex Chilton. He has lived almost everywhere from New York to Paris, Vienna, and Bangkok, and since he is of Italian descent, he also has connections with Italy.

At 77, he doesn’t seem to want to slow down even a bit. On Friday night, he and his band Panther Burns gave a late-night show at Los Angeles’ Airliner with style and dance moves that could make anyone jealous. He is now touring with a trio of Italian musicians, producer/guitarist Mario Monterosso, bassist Giuseppe Sangirardi, and drummer Walter Brunetti in support of his last EP, “Club Car Zodiac,” released last November by ORG Music, but this was the occasion for visiting much more than new songs. “Club Car Zodiac” was written and recorded during the pandemic and features a surprising electric folk treatment of ‘House of The Rising Sun” beside Tav Falco’s signature roots sound. However, his repertoire is vast, unpredictable, and daring. Did Tav Falco even perform a song from his last EP last night? I am not even sure, but it matters very little.

Before Tav took the stage, the trio played a few instrumentals of surf guitar and pieces in the veins of the Shadows, a band that they actually covered (“Apache”). They were also rockabilly-inspired originals written by Monterosso, which allowed the band to demonstrate their great talent. It was certainly old school but executed with style and bravado… he even had a song inspired by Spanish pre-superhero Zorro.

Tav Falco’s style is disheveled but very professional and it encompasses a lot of genres, as his music has been described as primal rock & roll, deviant hill country blues, avant-garde cabaret, Avant-hillbilly noise roots, and much more, while it includes Latin tango rhythms, depression-era blues, and party-starting rock ‘n’ roll. This is a lot to digest at once, but Falco makes it easy as the entire thing is a performance with interesting dance steps and shaken maracas.

Looking elegant in a suit, he moved on stage with a silhouette and gestures that never matched his age. From the playfulness of the 2015 “Oh Girls, Girls,” to a cover of Michael Bublé’s “Sway,” Falco didn’t hesitate to offer a seductive approach which continued with “He’ll Have to Go,” and many songs from all horizons. There were a lot of covers and the set was quite varied but always erudite. If many tunes sounded familiar, it was however hard to identify all of them without a visible setlist. Many had a ‘60s sound with sometimes a European flair – “Master of Chaos” was a song about the French master criminal Fantômas, and another one mentioned Jackie-O and French movie icon Brigitte Bardot – or sometimes a pure bright rockabilly flavor that sounded like an early-Presley or Chuck Berry number. We went from the tango tempo of ”Born Too Late,” which contained “a little bit of existential angst but not a heavy dose,” to a prison ballad (a cover of Sanford Clark’s “Go on Home”) to Charlie Feathers’s Jungle Fever. The show was all about the moves, the moods, and the performance, and something tells me that every one of the shows on the present tour will be different each night. “I don’t really know that song,” Tav Falco said before singing Elvis Presley’s “Treat Me Nice;” it was executed with a rather sober rockabilly tone but fantastic dance moves.

The band ended the show with an encore and an Alex Chilton song, the tender “Girl After Girl.” I knew very little about this reckless and enigmatic artist who has shared the stage with Alex Chilton and The Cramps, but from Big Star to Elvis, Fantomas, Michael Bublé, and rockabilly from the ‘50s, the show turned out to be a strange fusion when you think about it.  Sure, Friday night’s performance was far from the eccentricities of Falco’s early ones during which he chainsawed a cheap Silvertone guitar in half after performing a version of Leadbelly’s ‘Bourgeois Blues,” but there was still flamboyance, wit, creativity, and even danger in everything he did. There was an uncontrolled wildness and energy that defy generations and genres.


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