Almost 20 years ago, the Flat Duo Jets pulled off a neat trick: The duo from Chapel Hill, N.C., emerged with a debut album in 1990 that established it as one of the few bands helping to make primal roots-rock a mainstay within the alternative-rock community.
Rumbling through breakneck surf-abilly and super-charged country blues, guitarist-vocalist Dexter Romweber and drummer Chris "Crow" Smith also set another significant precedent: Bare-bones roots-rock duos with guitar and drums have continued to be successful, in such groups as the White Stripes and the Black Keys.
The Flat Duo Jets disbanded around 1999, but Romweber has continued to record, broadening his musical horizons with each subsequent, if infrequent, solo album. He even recorded an excellent version of Tom Waits' "Romeo Is Bleeding" for the 2000 Waits tribute album New Coat of Paint—and Romweber boasts the widescreen scope and potential to become as influential and respected as Waits.
There's a new album in stores now, credited to the Dex Romweber Duo, which consists of Dex and his sister, drummer Sara Romweber. Music aficionados will recognize Sara as a former member of alternative rock acts such as Let's Active and Snatches of Pink.
A couple of months ago, the Dex Romweber Duo released the album Ruins of Berlin to great acclaim, and they've toured in the recent past with such artists as Southern Culture on the Skids, Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers, Reverend Horton Heat and the White Stripes.
This past March, the duo drifted through Tucson for a relatively unheralded gig at The Hut. If you missed that gig, or even if you didn't, the Romwebers will be back in town on Tuesday, May 26, at Plush.
The bill that night also will feature the critically acclaimed Detroit Cobras, who combine raw garage rock, proto-R&B and girl-group melodies; and Tucson's the Mission Creeps, a dark and moody goth-abilly trio.
On Ruins of Berlin, the Romwebers don't simply stick to their ferocious trademark jungle drums and rockabilly sound. In the midst of that tornado, they incorporate classic jazz, pop standards, soul, country and blues. They go cabaret on the title track, and "Polish Work Song" lurches like a band at an Eastern European wedding.
The album also demonstrates that Romweber is defined in part by the company he keeps. It features guest appearances by singers Cat Power, Neko Case and Exene Cervenka, proof that Romweber bridges the worlds of punk, alternative rock, soul and alt-country.
As noted above, his influence is everywhere, but notably so in the ever-evolving worlds of roots-rock and alternative music.
Evidence of this can be found in the fact the Dex Romweber Duo recently recorded a 7-inch single with alternative-rock icon Jack White of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather. The single, to feature the songs "Last Kind Word Blues" and "The Wind Did Move," will be released late in May on White's new label, Third Man.
Unfortunately, Dex Romweber wasn't available to talk to the Tucson Weekly at the time arranged by his publicist this past weekend. However, White has been widely quoted about his reverence for Romweber.
In the 2006 Flat Duo Jets documentary, Two Headed Cow, White said, "Dexter Romweber was and is a huge influence on my music. I owned all of his records as a teenager. ... His attitude toward music is remarkable. And his songwriting, along with his love of classic American music from the South, be it rockabilly, country or R&B, is one of the best-kept secrets of the rock 'n' roll underground."
The lineup for the show at Plush features acts that seem to be on the leading edge of the ongoing back-to-basics revolution in garage rock. Miss Frankie Stein, who plays bass with the Mission Creeps, concurred.
"In this computer age, when so much music is über-slick and overproduced, hearing the natural sound of reverb that is just downright dirty and raw is quite refreshing," Stein said. "You can't emulate that with a computer. And it seems to me like this show has dirty-reverb-to-the-gills garage-rock written all over it."
Stein's partner, guitarist-singer James Arr, said the Mission Creeps are honored to be on the bill.
"Artists like Dex, Flat Duo Jets and Detroit Cobras—they paved the way for bands like us. If it wasn't for folks such as these, including the Cramps, I don't think there would be a Mission Creeps, or it would probably sound a bit different."
The concert on Tuesday, May 26, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., will begin at 9 p.m. with the Mission Creeps, followed by sets by the Dex Romweber Duo and the Detroit Cobras. Tickets cost $10 in advance, or $12 on the day of the show. Call 798-1298 for more information.