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Keep on Dancing

Duo's name came about by goofy happenstance

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Recently signed to Smog Veil Records as a duo, punk legends Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls and Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys were hanging out in the studio listening to unmixed tracks they had recorded together for their debut EP. Their revved-up cover of "Blues Theme," a surf-rock hit for Davie Allan & the Arrows, came over the PA, and Sylvain began dancing crazily around the room, shaking his hips and drawing his V-ed fingers across his eyes. "I'm a damn good dancer," he says with a chuckle. "Michael Jackson ain't got nothin' on me."

Cheetah recognized the dance but couldn't remember where he'd seen it. "I told him I didn't know what they called it, but it's the dance Batman does," Sylvain recalls. "Cheetah Googled it and said it's called the Batusi! It's a cross between Batman and Watusi." Both musicians latched on to the name, and the Batusis were born.

A relic from '60s pop culture, the Batusis is perhaps an unexpected name for a band of relics from '70s pop culture, who represent music at its most ferocious, most libidinous, even most sinister. "There's one thing I think everybody missed about the punk movement — its sense of humor," Sylvain says. "There was tragedy, but the sense of humor was terrific." Fittingly, the Batusis' EP sounds like they're having a gas, as the dynamic duo update surly surf rock, brickbat punk, and glammy blues-rock into a playful hip-shake sound.

Their sense of fun comes from secure legacies and a friendship spanning four decades. "We partied together and jammed from time to time," Sylvain says. But they never had an opportunity to write, record, or tour together until now. The mood was more casual than professional, because the two didn't want to force anything that wasn't there. "It's not that we purposefully try to do anything really," he says. "If you do that, you kill the momentum."

For the EP, Cheetah and Sylvain each wrote one track and rounded them out with two instrumentals. "Bury You Alive," Cheetah's caustic anti-war song, is all clenched teeth and tense riffs — the Batusis' darkest moment. "We really sock it to you with that song," Sylvain says. "His stuff is very political, and it has an agenda. But my stuff is a little more like the sun is shining and I'm in love again."

Sylvain's contribution, the gnarly "What You Lack in Brains," proudly broadcasts caveman lustiness that harkens back to the Dolls' gender-bending punk: "What you lack in brains, you got in looks," he sings. "A grown-up doll, she never picked up a book."

The song's boneheaded single entendres and wolf whistles may sound like good dirty fun, but according to Sylvain, the song is autobiographical. After he immigrated to the United States with his parents, he spoke no English, and his undiagnosed dyslexia made learning the language difficult. Still, he was handsome — and a good-enough dancer — that girls found him irresistible. "One girl would say, 'Oh, he's so cute.' And the other would say, 'Yeah, but he's so dumb,'" Sylvains says. "At high school dances, I swear to God, I would have a nice little line of girls waiting to dance with me. This is when I realized I must have something. Maybe what I lacked in brains, I made up in looks."

Rather than mope about his alienation, Sylvain turns the experience into a raunchy rocker that revels in adolescent hedonism. Sylvain may no longer be a teenager, but even at 58, he's still writing — and dancing — like one.

The Batusis, with Angel Sluts and the Hosel Bros.

Hi-Tone Café

Thursday, July 15th

10 p.m.; $12

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