Tav Falco may make his living as a Tango teacher in Vienna, but the role of dancer and choreographer are just two more notches on the Curriculum Vitae of an artistic polymath who can also include writer, actor, film-maker and artist on what is no-doubt a sepia-tinted document that's been passed around town like a dirty postcard more than once.
Top of the list, however, must be Falco's status as avant-blues singer, musical iconoclast and leader for more than thirty years of the ever-changing band of low-slung retro-nouveau rockers known as Panther Burns.
For his first dates in Scotland in a couple of lifetimes, Falco brings an all-European band to town in a show that may more resemble an old-time revue than a fleapit or garden gig, featuring as it does a top notch Tango display by Falco himself, while a band that wouldn't look out of place at a bump n' grind burlesque night in a David Lynch film plays on.
Falco may have crawled straight out of Memphis, the original home of rock and roll and blues before it, rewinding its way from Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash to Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Robert Johnson, but his influences name-check a high-falutin' set of reference points, including Antonin Artaud's 'The Theatre and It's Double', Beat novelist and cut-up pioneer, William S Burroughs, Dadaist poet Louis Aragon, creator of TV science-fiction show The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling, and Marshall McLuhan's theories on mass media, sometimes in the same song.. This wasn't just rock n'roll. This was art, as the appalled host of a TV breakfast show Falco and co appeared on early in their career found out for herself when Falco described the band as a “neo-rumourist orchestra” creating an “anti-environment.”
Having spent the 1970s taking verite photographic portraits of Memphis blues veterans, Falco named his band after a local Memphis plantation, which itself was borne from the legend of a predatory panther who stalked the local populace until he was caught and set alight. The panther's screams, so it was said, were 'an unholy amalgam of animal lust and divine transubstantiation', which was something for Falco to aim for.
Falco had already forged early alliances with fellow Memphisites The Cramps and Big Star's Alex Chilton (reinvented as LX Chilton when he played with Falco, if you please), and would go on to become a contemporary of Jeffrey Lee Pierce's Gun Club. In the twenty-odd releases between their 1981 debut album, 'Behind The Magnolia Curtain' and their most recent collection of original material, 2010's 'Conjurations: Séance For deranged Lovers', some seventy-five members have passed through Panther Burns' ranks, including former Sonic Youth and Cramps drummer and current member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Grinderman, Jim Sclavunos.
While Falco has influenced the likes of Spacemen 3 and Jon Spencer's Blues Explosion, he remains a one-off original. The style may be retro, but Falco and co are no pastiche novelty number either. Instead, with a 450 page psycho-geographic history of Memphis under his belt, as well as appearances in Jerry Lee Lewis biopic, 'Great Balls of Fire!' and 'Highway 61', Falco remains an authentic archivist and keeper of the flame who, like some kind of anti Stray Cats, keeps on pushing at the limits of his chose oeuvre.
The result is a calculatedly raw but deliciously honed mix of garage-punk vaudevillian showmanship, though Falco himself would probably prefer his own self-styled description of Panther Burns as “a Southern Gothic, psychedelic country band influenced by Memphis musical styles.”
Tav Falco and His Famous, Unapproachable Panther Burns play Broadcast, Glasgow, February 9, with The Primevals and The Reverse Cowgirls; Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, February 12, with The Fnords and Sterling Roswell.
The List, February 2014