Last winter I arrived at a North Campus house to interview Burglar, only to hear a different band practicing inside. The sounds emanating from the basement were a far cry from Burglar's retro rock cabaret pastiche. This music was driving, droning, primitive.

Last winter I arrived at a North Campus house to interview Burglar, only to hear a different band practicing inside. The sounds emanating from the basement were a far cry from Burglar's retro rock cabaret pastiche. This music was driving, droning, primitive.

I soon learned that Burglar bassist Spencer Morgan had strapped on a guitar and teamed with the band's drummer, Adam Scoppa, to form a new combo called Psychic Wheels. Four months later, they played their first official gig last Wednesday at Rumba Cafe.

Back in the basement, Psychic Wheels was a trio. They've since expanded to a five-piece that casts a striking appearance on stage. Morgan jacks his guitar up nearly to his pectorals, Tom Morello style. He's flanked by wife Kate Morgan on retro keys, Molly Davis on bass and "Neil Wheels" strumming a plugged-in acoustic off to stage left. Scoppa plays drums standing up with a minimal kit a la Mo Tucker.

They all perform with a detached simmer, channeling passion from somewhere deep but letting it waft casually through the tunes. Rather than shout it out, Scoppa delivers his frequent "1, 2, 3, 4" intros in measured monotone. In the art-damaged tradition of The Velvet Underground and The Jesus and Mary Chain, it's rock 'n' roll without much twisting and shouting.

There's a pinch of Pixies in the mix as well, from the boy-girl vocals to the dirty surf guitar that occasionally rides through on a wave of mutilation. Morgan usually sings with a burdened baritone in the vein of Calvin Johnson and Stephin Merritt, though his narration sometimes reaches into the higher registers when the band's shambolic jangle saunters into a cloud of smoke.

Music of this ilk doesn't demand perfection, so first-show jitters like off-key harmonies and a bass flub here and there didn't detract much from what was overall an impressive debut. Morgan's broken string with two songs to go did derail momentum, but you'll have that.

Plus, their last song wiped away any of my impatient irritation. "I don't want another pyromaniac lover!" was Morgan's mantra, building tension to unleash in big-bang chords that announced Psychic Wheels as garage rockers to be reckoned with.