The fundamental question of every Reverend Horton Heat show isn’t “how are you?” or even “where are you from?” Simply stated, walking through the doors into the rockabilly show beyond asks only “what year do you want it to be?” The only indication that any time has passed since 1959 is that the Reverend comes armed with new songs every so often. There’s a palpable sense of times gone by as the dulcet and practiced tones of the birth of rock and roll, intertwined with the sensibilities of country and western, waft through the crowd, offering everyone a chance at what the heyday of rock was like. Surely, the music has been blended with a touch of punk and several other influences, but the scales and measures speak to the true nature of what the Reverend and his friends are putting down.
First to the party was The Creepshow, a Canadian psychobilly act armed with gumption, confidence and a flair not unlike the Dropkick Murphys in their younger days. The bagpipes are replaced capably with a Hammond organ, and the gravelly everyman vocals have been capable supplanted by a talented vixen by the name of Kenda Legaspi. The band’s whole affect simply works – they’re a modern act with modern convictions, but playing songs sucked out of the wabac machine and spiced up in this new millennium. The vigor of The Creepshow as they blast through easy sing-alongs like “Zombies Ate Her Brain” and “Grave Diggers” in undeniable. They picked the right songs to showcase their formidable take on a standard genre by including up tempo toe-tappers like “Run For Your Life” and “Get What’s Coming.” It’s a rare day when an opening band makes you go ‘hey, I need to stop what I’m doing and pay attention to this,” but The Creepshow makes you do that and more. Big things hopefully lie ahead for them.
As for the Reverend, we’ve probably talked about this before, but one of the foremost assurances with any Reverend Horton Heat performance is the guaranteed-or-your-money-back promise of a tight, professional show. Heat and company have been around too long to let their fans or themselves down with a show that’s either half-assed or half-addled. Heat accomplishes this in two separate fashions – one, he pays homage to the adage ‘leave them wanting more’ by keeping his set lists short. Certainly, after all the studio records he’s produced, the Reverend could go on for hours in a sort of Reverend-cum-Rush performance, but by managing his set time he makes sure that the crowd is never tired.
Beginning with a tight “Victory Lap” and then into “Smell of Gasoline” the band reaffirms what we all already knew – for all the shtick and posturing of a Reverend Horton Heat show, this is a band of seasoned perfectionists that are highly talented and practice their craft with respect for both the product and audience. I am consistently amazed by how tight the Rev’s tone is, how acute his ability to find the right note or chord. That’s half lessons learned over a lifetime of songwriting and half given talent.
Naturally, there were standards that had to be observed. “Psychobilly Freakout,” “400 Bucks” and “The Jimbo Song” have all become part and parcel with the Reverend Horton Heat experience, though that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. Toss in newer favorites like a lengthy medley built around “Galaxie 500,” and no one can say that they didn’t hear at least a couple tunes that they love.
It may be worth mentioning that aside from “Galaxie,” the super-popular “Lucky 7” record was more or less a no-show, as was “Spend a Night in the Box.” While it would be impossible to say that the setlist was lacking in their absence, as old standbys like “Martini Time” were scattered throughout, fans who came to the band through those two albums may have wondered what was up.
The evening was very much centered around the album “REV,” not just in the beginning as mentioned, but throughout. “Zombie Dumb,” which Heat called arguably the stupidest song on his new record, and more serious pieces like “Mad Mad Heart” made appearances, alongside album cuts such as “Let Me Teach You How to Eat.” Spanning old to new, the setlist was an examination of an entire career up to this moment, as well as evidence that the band’s ethos has never changed.
It was mentioned earlier – go to a Reverend Horton Heat show, and you’ll get a show. No pyro, no cheap gimmicks, no pejorative profanity for the sake of such things. Just rock and roll as it was played back in the day, transporting all in attendance to a simpler time when rock only went by one name.