Sometimes the sizzle sells better than the steak. In the image-driven world of rockabilly, a decent pomp can rival a decent lick, and God help you if your press photos don't include at least of few of you and your bandmates draped across a DeVille. Not that rockabilly is vacuous by nature, but more that its inimitable vanity and gravity stem from clannishness.
Ask any of the attendees at Viva Las Vegas, an annual spring rockabilly fest moving into its ninth year. Among the Mike Ness and Betty Page look-alikes and the vampy lipstick, bangs and razor-sharp sideburns, you'll find a way of life as de rigueur as the music's formula: aggressive, unapologetically sexy and absolutely balls-out. It's from this tradition that The High Rollers, playing at Benny's on Friday, June 10, explode.
The High Rollers have cut their teeth on the Prescott, Ariz., scene and are fairly fresh from a West Coast and Southwest tour in support of their 2003 release, Hungover. The follow-up to their debut effort More Rockabilly Than the Law Allows!, Hungover is exactly what you'd expect from a trio of hepped-up hellbents. The group -- Joe Bob Booth on vocals and guitar, Bobby Joe Kolar on upright bass and Bad Andy on the drums -- dishes out shambling, snarling tunes, and the subject matter runs the gamut from girls to cars to drinks and then back again.
Songs like "I'm Bad" make you believe it, with reverb-drenched guitar and tough-as-nails vocals, underscored by Bad Andy's frenetic efforts on the skins. Likewise, "Booze & Women" moves from verse to chorus to solo in the time it takes most bands to wind up an intro, while "She's Acting Like a Lady" seems just slightly perplexed. You won't find any balladry here; the closest the Rollers come is the swamp-gunk of "Witch Doctor's Curse," which still rattles along at close to 200 dirty beats per minute.
Dirty is what the band is after, though, and they are proficient and steeped in more than enough attitude to sell the material. Booth's scowling drawl conjures bar fights and Marlboros, and his work on the Silvertone is packed with shitkicker-vicious intention. On the bass, Kolar is thunderous, doling out deft, upright low-end to counterpoise the rapid and often convulsive drumming.
The High Rollers are a nearly perfect fit for Benny's, that inviting, dive-ish and sometimes dicey West Side institution. Amid the tattered pool tables and videogames and the fantastic jukebox, The Rollers can be expected to put on a good show, a four-on-the-floor night of drinks and rock and swagger. Despite the formula of the attire and the music, The Rollers aren't contrived -- they're as heartfelt as a handshake and sincere as a sock in the gut. Regardless of the trappings, isn't that what selling the sizzle is all about?
-- Aaron Retka
The High Rollers
Benny's, 517 W. Colorado Ave.
Friday, June 10, 9 p.m.
$5; call 634-9309 or visit highrollersaz.com.