Tav Falco's Panther Burns / Tav Falco

Command Performance

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While Tav Falco & Panther Burns have never been entirely absent, they have gone for long periods without recording or performing. Falco's been a busy guy in the 21st century, living in Vienna, learning to dance the tango, producing, writing, and directing a film, acting in others, and writing Ghost Behind the Sun: Splendor, Enigma & Death (Mondo Memphis, Vol. 1), a musical history of the city from the Civil War to the present. Command Performance is a riveting new collection of originals and covers recorded and mixed in Rome for the tiny Twenty Stone Blatt label and produced by guitarist Mario Monterosso. The band (as is typical) is almost entirely new with only drummer/percussionist Giovanna Pizzorno returning from 2011's Conjurations: Seance for Deranged Lovers. Have no fear, however, both Falco and collaborators are in top form. The set opens with its outlier: a faithful yet somehow lecherous version of Toni Basil's 1966 Motown-centric hit "Breakaway" from Bruce Conner's classic film. There are also homages to fellow Memphians: "Bangkok" pays tribute to late Panther Burns founding member Alex Chilton and is presented as a shambolic, garage surfadelic number. "Jungle Fever," by rockabilly wildman Charlie Feathers, is a rumbling, howling blues. Memphis Minnie's "Me and My Chauffeur Blues" is done straight, while Joe & Audrey Allison's "He'll Have to Go" (a hit for Jim Reeves in 1959) is done as a funk number -- check that bassline! Among the originals are the dark, distorted brooding camp of "About Marie Laveau" and "Doomsday Baby," which crosses Alan Vega with a '60s spy film soundtrack. "Whistle Blower" is a surreal country-blues with great acoustic slide guitar work. "Master of Chaos" is its own jagged, careening swirl of post-psych and tango, while "Fire Island" twins wah-wah guitars and accordions in a noir-ish swamp blues. "Memphis Ramble" melds Southern R&B to loungy pop/rock. The set closes with "Rumbetta" which, you guessed it, is rhumba-by-way-of-surf-music sung in duet with Pizzorno. The range of material on Command Performance is more narrow than on Conjurations, but the approach is more immediate and daring. Sonically, this is the best record the Panther Burns have ever made. That said, with less grit in the mix, the decadent ooze in the band's aesthetic is all the more heady.

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