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Romweber’s influence stretches far and wide

by Ryan Snyder

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The change in Dexter Romweber from the time he appeared on afive-minute segment of the long-defunct MTV show “The Cutting Edge” tothe present day is unmistakable. Narrated by the disembodied voice ofthe Fleshtones’ Peter Zaremba, the clip shows young Dex giving a tourof the ramshackle dwelling out back of his family home that he sharedwith Flat Duo Jets bandmate Crow Davis, affectionately known as theMausoleum. Romweber resembled an amalgamation of a ’70s Brit-punk and ayoung Jack White, with the stoned, droopy eyes of Jim Breuer’scharacter in Half Baked. His country twang almost seemed to belie histough exterior, revealing a gentle good-hearted kid with a pure passionfor nothing but the music he loved. “The Maus” was barely habitable, but the two kids who formed one of themost influential acts ever to come out of the state of North Carolinascarcely seemed to mind. Amidst the empty beer cans and loaded ashtrayswere tiny black-and-white photos of heroes like Elvis Presley, BuddyHolly and Gene Vincent, the latter of which Romweber declared “there’snever gonna be a wildest rocker ever again.” Ironically, he wouldrepeatedly challenge that assertion over the next two decades with hisformer partner Davis and later with his sister in the Dexter RomweberDuo.

Over years of playing the dirtiest dives and the sweatiest crowds,Romweber built a reputation for being a sheer force of nature on stage.Channeling the rock-and-roll fervor of his idol Holly and the visceralcharisma of Presley, Romweber has forged believers out of music andmusicians alike. Look no further than Two Headed Cow, the 2006 documentary made about the rise and fall of Flat Duo Jets, and the impact Romweber has made on rock music will become unmistakable. Chan Marshall of Cat Power, Neko Case and even the White Stripe’s White all fawn over the Flat Duo Jets as a band that made a profound impact on their own music. White even went as far as to suggest that he created his own stage persona from studying the imitable Romweber in action. “We tried to get him [for the film], but he was far too busy at the time,” Romweber noted. Jack said that he wanted to release a “45 with the Duo on one side and the White Stripes on the other.” With such weighty endorsements behind him and his current act with his sister on drums faring well, Romweber did something he had never done before: He went to record an album littered with guest performances. It was no accident that many of the same names who went on record in Two Headed Cow with their sublime appreciation of Romweber appeared on the Duo’s latest release, Ruins of Berlin. It is a concept album of the purest form; Romweber pays homage to some of his greatest and most obscure influences, while the likes of Marshall, Case, tribute to Romweber. It takes an astute listener to surmise the origins of much of the album. With covers of jazz and country greats like Ketty Lester, Gene Roland and Billy Sherrill, he’s mined his own record collection for only the premium nuggets of sound. The title track, “Ruins of Berlin,” itself is a cover of the Frederick Hollander tune from the Marlene Dietrich classic A Foreign Affair. The semi-archaic nature of much the influences is wholly indicative of Romweber’s taste in music; he’s been hesitant to acclimatize to the rapid trends of contemporary music in recent years. When asked about recent artists that he’s come to embrace, his best answers are Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave, two artists who have actually been recording long than Romweber himself. “Sara and I draw from a lot of very distinctive influences,” Romweber said. “But all the songs are very versatile in their own way.” It’s not that Romweber outright rejects any sort of contemporary dominion over his creative impetus, it’s that he sees no reason to look outside an era whose music he sees as being pure and unblemished. It wasn’t quite the instrument of the capitalist apparatus that it is today, with less inorganic elements than the cigarettes of which he was once so fond. Today, that kid living in the shack out back has grown into a mature, reserved adult, thankful for all of those he’s had the good fortune to perform alongside, including the now-estranged Davis. Though the buoyant sanguinity of his youth has been supplanted by cautious skepticism, Romweber still exudes the same onstage ferocity the earned him his legendary status.

The Dexter Romweber Duo will be performing at The Blind Tiger on Thursday, February 26.

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