In Great Balls of Fire, the 1989 film dramatizing the career of Jerry Lee Lewis, Jerry Lee is rebuked by a young, female, would-be fan: “My mama don’t want me listening to rock and roll. She says it leads to impure thoughts.” Dennis Quaid, channeling Lewis’s notorious brashness, quips “mama’s right.”
I am not about to quibble over definitions of purity, but there is truth in that scripted remark. To some degree, the mystique of rock and roll has always been about frightening the stuffed shirts. Dallas’s The Phuss recovers some of that spirit of iconoclasm. They are, delightfully, everything the prigs and parsons fear: an animal of reckless temperament, a beautifully destructive sound.
In some ways, The Phuss fall exactly into that amp-stacked tradition for which Dallas has often been derided. North Texas is sometimes known as the land where the rock is as comically big as J.R.’s altitudinous hat. What those blanket pejoratives fail to take into account is that rock and roll, loud and monstrous, is a craft that is difficult, but possible, to accomplish well.
From what I know of Dallas’s history of guitar gluttony, the offerings were often miles wide and mere microns deep: a legion of mammoth acts, each an even poorer Xerox of the last. The results were mostly big, muddy, and inarticulate. Worse, bands affected a deluded posture that imagined otherwise – that they really were the guitar gods of their bloated imagination. Consequently, austerity has been exonerated and, while many bands manage to be loud and proud, many more are complimented on toning it down.
My trip to The Nightmare on Elm convinced me that The Phuss are an antidote to Dallas’s dubious rock catalog without sacrificing the jarring impact. Their songs are frightfully, sharply precise. Their talent is overt and arresting. The result is artful and moves at a very real momentum.
Guitarist Joshua Fleming dances his feet in concert with the ruthless command of his guitar. He shivers across the stage, jolts, and scuffs his feet in hyper volatility, screaming and perspiring. There is no hyperbole with The Phuss. The trio of musicians affects a posture exactly commensurate with their ability to knife through the room. Their stage strut is a claim made veracious by their impressively tight, aggressive sound. It is rock and roll in its most crystalline, adrenal seductiveness.
Formed two years ago, the Phuss are beginning to draw attention for their impeccable yet raucous performances. Their recorded catalog currently consists of out-of-print material and frozen assets. The Phuss’ tunes are apparently being held hostage by some unnamed label, so they are left only to perform. To hear and see the band, you would get no sense of bitter discontent. “We’re just happy to play,” Fleming testified from Nightmare’s stage. Then, he sliced into the next number, sneakers got busy in mercurial animation, hands furiously beat sound out of his cherry guitar.
Josh Fleming claims The Phuss is the fruition of his years of musical practice and ambition. An audacious claim from someone in their early twenties, but not unreasonable. For good reason, the creations of a band’s fledgling years have a long history of being the best, when the artists are still kicking and crying with some real vinegar in their blood. That The Phuss is the crest of the members’ rock and roll appetites is entirely believable. For now, it is a project – in sound, disposition, and movement – resonating at a golden frequency. It is rock and roll and it is still as menacing as mama worried.