With its penchant for the past, it's not surprising that Pittsburgh is home to a small but fanatic audience for rockabilly, the 1950s blues-based style that was the immediate precursor to mainstream rock 'n' roll. What might be surprising, though, is that one local rockabilly band's biggest audience is on the other side of the world.
"Memphis Mike" Metzger, 42, has played in rockabilly bands up and down the East Coast since 1982. After moving to Pittsburgh in 1990, Metzger formed what was then the area's only rockabilly band -- The Rowdy Bovines. When they broke up in 1995, the members formed four offshoots: Metzger's Tremblers, Highway 13, El Diablo and The Bessemers.
In the States, The Legendary Tremblers frequent a small club circuit that doesn't include the flashiest venues. But the real action is in England, Europe and Australia, where Metzger's trio once rocked an audience of more than 60,000. "If you can survive the flight, you'll have a blast," he jokes.
"In the past 20 years, Americans have leaned more towards DJs and karaoke, but [Australians] absolutely love live performance," Metzger adds. The band plays Melbourne primarily, but also Sydney and some of Queensland's resort areas.
Metzger recalls a memorable show in Bathurst, a small town in New South Wales. "We pulled up and it didn't look like much. But 1,500 people came out and it was a madcap night -- we tore up the ballroom of this old hotel. That's the kind of audience bands wish they can play to every night. A lot of them knew the words to my songs, and every time I go 'down under,' I run out of CDs."
Appropriately, the new CD Metzger is releasing this weekend is a "Live in Australia" recording. It includes more than a dozen new and old originals, as well as an AC/DC cover (retitled "The Acca Dacca Song"), a mashup of two classic movie themes called "Godfinger" (you figure it out) and the obligatory Johnny Cash. Tacked on the end are two studio tracks featuring longtime bassist Rob Jacob and Australian skins-pounder Brian Francis (the Tremblers' Pittsburgh-based drummer is John Dauer), offering a preview of their fifth studio album, due out later this year.
All of this excitement comes only a year after Metzger suffered a heart attack. Incredibly, he was back behind the mic only a week after leaving the hospital. "I'm back to gigging, not as regular as I'd like to, but I'm a good 95 percent," he says. "If I need the downtime, I'll take it. I tend to put on a pretty rowdy show, and I don't want to have another heart attack onstage."
Memphis Mike & The Legendary Tremblers with Action Camp and The Metropolitans. 9 p.m. Fri., July 25. Howler's Coyote Café, 4509 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. $6. 412-682-0320