The word "rockabilly" comes up often in reference to Heavy Trash, but I dunno -- Midnight Soul Serenade, the band's latest, seems rockabilly in much the same way the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was blues. As in, not really rockabilly ... but maybe some weird outer-space mutant descendant of it.
Heavy Trash teams the aforementioned Spencer (who's also been involved in Pussy Galore and numerous other projects) with Matt Verta-Ray (Madder Rose) and various friends sitting in on this and that. The group debuted on Yep Roc in 2005, followed by a second release in 2007; its third, Midnight Soul Serenade, came out last year on Fat Possum Records. As the title -- and the macabre, zombified album art -- suggest, the sound features gothy organ tones mixed in around spooky Bigsby tremolos and Spencer's signature hiccupping vocals. It's kind of an alternate Bubba Ho-Tep soundtrack.
Thankfully, there's none of the roots purism some punk rockers tend towards with the passage of time. "The Pill," one of the more memorable tracks here, is a spoken-word drug-journal entry evocative of Tarantino and Tom Waits, over what sounds like a programmed beat and a stew of eerie guitars. "The hotel bedspread was a mess of colors -- looked like somebody had thrown up," Spencer deadpans. "Bettie had long hair on her forearms and a tattoo of the Neubauten logo on her right shoulder ..."
The evil, tongue-in-cheek vibe carries through the album with songs like "Bumble Bee" and "Isolation." And just to make sure you understand what neighborhood Heavy Trash has its eye on, the group drops in a reference to Jeffrey Lee Pierce, of American proto-psychobilly band The Gun Club.
Nothing will have quite the same freak rush as hearing those initial Blues Explosion recordings in the early '90s -- all squalling noise and Spencer's non sequiturs. But there's plenty to dance to here, as well as some sweet moments and, on a few tracks, plenty of that goin'-at-it fever. As one of the album's roughest songs perversely observes, "Sometimes you got to be gentle."
But with these guys? That Mr. Niceguy act doesn't last too long.
Heavy Trash with The Mount McKinleys 8 p.m. Tue., April 27. Thunderbird Café, 4023 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $13 ($15 day of show). 412-682-0177 or www.thunderbirdcafe.net