Those who watched the 1987 documenary "Athens, GA " Inside/Out" probably expected a durable cinematic souvenir of the coronation of R.E.M. as the band unexpectedly ascended. While the film delivered a few great R.E.M. moments and a handful of notable scenes with other eccentric denizens of Bulldog Country, it was North Carolina's Flat Duo Jets who left the most indelible impression of passionate, foot-to-the-floor rock 'n' roll.
The duo, then comprised of singer/guitarist Dexter Romweber and drummer Chris "Crow" Smith, is seen in the film playing absolutely crazed rock while outside on a freezing night, Romweber's nostrils flaring, his short instrument cable seemingly the only tether restraining him from going on a rampage of uncertain consequences. With eyes rolled back in his head, he seemed to be breathing fire.
"We went from Chapel Hill to Athens for one year, and they were making that film," Romweber said. "It wasn't our plan to be a duo. It was completely by accident. There just wasn't a third person. Man, that was a hell of a cold night."
Eventually, the Flat Duo Jets divided, and Romweber took the solo route, mixing a little Frank Sinatra with his Howlin' Wolf, even adding a Chopin-style curveball on 2006's "Piano."
"My sister is a big fan of classical music, and I was gung ho on becoming a pianist. I'd like to do a volume two," he said, mentioning J.S. Bach as another influence longtime fans might not expect from the guy who sang "Juvenile Delinquent" like his innards were burning.
As the untamed Dexter slowly became the urbane and suave, but still edgy Dex, his sister, Sara (formerly of Let's Active and Snatches of Pink), became his backbeat, and the Dex Romweber Duo was born. Its first album for Bloodshot Records, "Ruins of Berlin," seamlessly punches cards for everything from country and lounge to rock and surf. Romweber's voice joins admiring indie sirens like Cat Power, Exene Cervenka and Neko Case, who each contributed to songs on the album.
"We had to record and mix it quickly, because we were pressed for time and money. That has some downsides to it," he said.
The pair will blast most of "Ruins of Berlin" 8 p.m. Thursday at 66 Bowl, a perfect venue for the duo. The volume of Romweber's durable Randall amp and '63 Silvertone guitar may knock over a few pins on their own.
Longtime fans can also haunt museums, theaters and maybe bowling alleys for elusive showings of Tony Gayton's 2006 documentary "Two Headed Cow," which traces the rise and fall of the Flat Duo Jets, and all things Romweber, with praises sung by Case, Cervenka, Mojo Nixon and The White Stripes' Jack White. Romweber said he's not crazy about the film's title, but that he is happy with how it turned out.