JOHNNY HOOTROCK with Last Call Brawlers at The District, Friday, June 7

Tucson's Last Call Brawlers have been pigeonholed into the outrageously silly rockabilly ghetto since they started playing shows almost 14 years ago. It's both a falsehood and a shame, because they have so much more to offer than revisionist greaser/pin-up fantasies. The quartet has a lot more in common with early 80's L.A. punks like X and the Gun Club than Gene Vincent or Eddie Cochran. Unlike other rockabilly-revivalists, the Last Call Brawlers are not so narrow minded as to ignore the rest of six decades of rock 'n' roll history to be a caricature or a prop at a bar. So just ignore the haircuts, because this band is ferocious while remaining relaxed and inviting. The Last Crawl Brawlers play party music and they deliver. I don't remember how many songs they played, or any of the titles. What I left with was the exhilaration of hearing a band playing timeless, vital music, with them loving it as much as I did.

JOHNNY HOOTROCK (a band, not a man; their choice of capitalization, not ours), on an album release tour from their hometown of Austin, played more into the presentational aspect of current rockabilly, with more considered style, as well as a sometimes fourth member, dancer Miss Frankenstein. Don't tell the Mission Creeps about this. JOHNNY HOOTROCK, like the Last Call Brawlers, don't sound much like 50's car-culture soundtracks, instead taking cues from Johnny Cash, but even more so the Clash, who's cover of Vince Taylor's "Brand New Cadillac" was performed. Guitarist Clem Hoot and drummer Johnny Cat have fine, lived-in voices, and things got more interesting when Miss Frankenstein was onstage with the group. While she did do the whole burlesque (rockabilly speak for stripper) dance routine, she interacted with Hoot as he sang, creating a dimension of theater that ended up enhancing the music - both clever and successful. What prevented this from being a Russ Meyer remake of Grease were strong songs and solid playing. While JOHNNY HOOTROCK do put together a package of self-aware sleaze, the band aren't condescending in the least, and they seem like they'd rather buy you a beer than stab you in the alley. JOHNNY HOOTROCK is a galaxy away from Johnny Strabler, Marlon Brando's character in The Wild One, but that's not to their detriment. After all, Elvis Presley loved his mama, too.


More by Joshua Levine


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