If Elvis were a country, we’d all be its citizens. Like a lamented lost uncle, his heritage courses through our shared musical arteries sure as blood. This doesn’t necessarily ensure a love of peanut butter and banana sandwiches (if you haven’t tried one, how can you say for sure?), but rather, it promises an untapped vein belonging to the King in every one of us.
With Sleazefest gone, you’d think that the atrophied vein would have left a hole in our Triangle hearts. Fear not: The eighth annual Elvisfest extravaganza kindles a spirit of unbridled excess that would make anyone with shag carpeted ceilings shed a tear of joy. It comes courtesy of Dave Quick, who is co-founder of Winston-Salem’s rowdy Heavy Rebel Weekend.
The events share a rambunctious largesse: For two days, 20 bands hold court in Chapel Hill at the Local 506 and neighboring Shorty’s Sports Bar, amidst a sea of nostalgia, from old Presley movies running endlessly on Shorty’s TVs to long tables of tchotkes and T-shirts. Each band plays a 40-minute set. Each set must include at least two Elvis covers. Can you feel the heart beating?
Maybe Dexter Romweber and the New Romans can: They headline Friday night. Last year, Romweber was astounding. Playing only with a drummer, his electric leads cut like razor wire and constituted a veritable guitar clinic. This year, he appears with a full band (rumored to include an appearance by “feature percussionist” Hunter Landon of Bad Checks fame).
“Dave Quick’s been doing the big-band stuff with his band TCB at Elvisfest in the past, but this year he’ll be doing that early combo stuff, and we’ll be the big band,” says New Romans drummer Dave Schmitt, who describes the band as a non-kosher klezmer act. “You get to see Dexter a lot solo or in a duo, so to see him every once in a while with a lot of backing is nice variation. Besides, Dexter’s very good at coming up with arrangements for more instruments and really neat parts he can’t do solo.”
Romweber’s big band is really a big party; its anything-goes adventurousness sometimes requires sexy backup singers or stinging saxman Crowmeat Bob. There was even the suggestion the set might include a tune by recent Staples’ commercial shill Englebert Humperdinck. They plan to cover “Fool,” an obscure track from late-era Vegas Elvis, which Schmitt cites asnext to “Viva Las Vegas”one of his cheesiest. But this isn’t irony.
“Dex really reveres Elvis. I think he appreciates Elvis’ talent and his musical essencethat combination of raw energy and a certain sophistication,” says Schmitt.
While locals Quick and Romweber anchor the first night, Saturday’s headliners make the trek all the way from Oklahoma City. Five-piece Billy Joe Winghead supply a scummy, bottom-scraping breed of garage chunk and rockabilly sneer. Whether celebrating sex in highway bathrooms or devastating classics like Ellington’s “Caravan” and Skynyrd’s “Freebird,” Winghead are comfortably over-the-top and on into the gutter. To wit, they sound like The Cramps kicking The Datsuns’ ass with Jack White’s bloody stump.
However, for sheer bravura and showmanship, it’d be hard to compete with Psychocharger. The nearly naked New York City trio covered themselves with a mix of peanut butter and bananas last year and shoved pieces of bread down their tights before playing. Their horror-film fueled psychobilly is tough, tight and scabrous, recalling Elvis Hitler. Of course, being covered in a thick, dripping aromatic sludge naturally adds a sense of dementia, butin the endit’s all about the quickened pulse, you know?