Wednesday, October 5
The Reverend Horton Heat is both the stage-name of guitarist, singer/songwriter Jim Heath and the name of his band. They’ve been referred to, variously, as country-fried rockabilly, as “punkabilly” and psychobilly – when the trio hits the stage to perform live it’s a glorious rock’n’roll revue – Heath is Brian Setzer-like with both his brawny voice and sinewy guitar lines, rewriting the 50s twang, 60s surf guitar and country and rock’n’roll variants to fit a punk sensibility with entertainment always a crucial part of the show.
Big, dumb songs like Psychobilly Freakout, Zombie Dumb and The Devil’s Chasing Me are early highlights, the lyrics reduced to crude chants in and round the spaces between Jimbo Wallace’s stirring slap bass and the floor-tom, rim-shotting, ride-cymbal-ing gauntlet thrown down by Scott Churilla.
Wallace drops to the floor at one point, still playing his bass, the Good Reverend stands up on the side of the bull fiddle in his Cuban heels , peeling off another stinging run of licks.
The songs are fun – the moves are great and the playing is ferocious. It’s the perfect mix of tightness and looseness, of talent and technique. They have their shtick down pat, you could imagine this music playing four shows a night, six nights a week, 50 weeks a year in a Japanese whiskey bar. But tonight they’re here. And they have brought all the show-stopping licks and tricks.
A song later and Jim Heath is on the upright bass, Jimbo Wallace is tearing at the six-string. A great version of Little Queenie not only shows off the guitarists’ near-interchangeable skills it’s also the very best Chuck Berry song to cover – one that stands up on its own, away from Chuck’s formidable stomp and swagger and cheeky delivery. It is the rock’n’roll song more people should cover – it is further proof of the Reverend’s talent. A guy who has done his time perfecting the gimmick and matching it with decent guitar skills.
His voice, too, is impressive. From punk-ish screams and howls through notes of country and the default setting of rock’n’roll – he’s a somewhat underrated vocalist. But all eyes are on those fingers as they dance up and down the frets, triggering yet another song to shake a hip to.
Some of the lyrics are comically bad (Where Did My Toothbrush Go, Smell of Gasoline) but you know the band knows that already. It’s all just framework to drape the evening’s shtick across.
An encore rendition of Folsom Prison Blues hits the spot too. Maybe there was a slight lull in the middle – nearly two dozen songs in a row all pushing (essentially) the same barrow. But hey, it was easy to blink and miss that lull. The Reverend kept the heat on – at least most of the time. A ripper of a rock’n’roller.