Locals Outlaw Rebels describe themselves on their Facebook page as "kick ass rockabilly." If a sound and style not unlike Buddy Holly via The Smiths is kick ass rockabilly, then Outlaw Rebels fit the bill. This quintet, led by the charismatic singer "Jammin'" Jim Wilson, leans towards the romantic, swooning brand of late '50s and early '60s rock 'n' roll. Their swinging and bittersweet songs are well-written and performed with an edgy but non-malevolent, lulling quality that plays out as the best homecoming dance you ever hoped for. Outlaw Rebels isn't going to stick you with a switchblade; the band is about courtship, diners, and milkshakes with two straws. Wilson is a consummate showman with a smooth, crooning voice to match. The group is period-correct, with suits, tunes, and vintage (at least appearing to be vintage) instruments, all contributing to a faithful re-creation of pre-Beatles American rock 'n' roll. While Outlaw Rebels' original songs are very fine in their own right, it's telling that the one cover they played was Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman." Not only does that standard neatly display the band's M.O., it was performed on a whim, with Wilson dedicating it "to all the pretty girls in the audience tonight." This banter seemed sincere, as Outlaw Rebels aim to please, and come across as very pleased for that opportunity.
The Moonlight Howlers are from Williams, Ariz. and may or may not be currently based in Texas. The trio uses classic rockabilly as a costume or stylistic persona, of which they have many more. The visual trappings of revivalist rockabilly were there - the haircuts, the stand-up bass - but the music was part Cramps, part Dick Dale, and part late '70s no wave, with loads of screaming and ghostly shrieking thrown in. Drummer/lead vocalist Ariel (stage name SIREN) was particularly engrossing, battering her drums and yelling like she was trapped in hell, albeit the kind of damnation that I, for one, would love to be part of, based on the thrilling excitement that Moonlight Howlers' speedy rave-ups worked up onstage. This disquieting derangement of the senses, combined with the band's haunted house musical roar, might've been disturbing if the sound emanating from all three members wasn't so fun and reckless. Frenzied and contagiously crazy, Moonlight Howlers put on quite a show; an experience far greater than the sum of its parts.