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The Reverend Horton Heat was preaching to the choir Wednesday night at Ace of Spades. The legendary psychobilly phenomenon has been on tour since December 2010 promoting their new album, Laughin’ & Cryin’ with the Reverend Horton Heat, as well as those old Horton Heat classics we love them for.
Mass began with the local Sacramento punk band, Another Damn Disappointment (A.D.D), who seriously tore up the stage. Don’t let their name fool you, there is nothing disappointing about A.D.D. Their high energy act, which channels sounds similar to punk greats like NOFX and Bad Religion, tore into the admittedly small crowd of early arrivals.
A few diehards at the front of the stage made a sad attempt at a mosh pit -which actually ended up being more of a weak shoving match - but A.D.D. kept on with Josh Thompson singing his heart out while the rest of the band accompanied him with furious beats and wild guitar riffs.
As the crowd grew, so did the energy, and about halfway through the performance, the venue was filled with a mix of Sacramento concert goers, about half in skater-urban wear and the other half in Texas style pearl snap button shirts adorned with fedoras, and yes, cowboy hats.
“How ya doing cowboy?” Thompson asked an aptly dressed gentleman. The man tipped his hat to Thompson who continued, “Give it up for country right here!” and kicked off into another frenzied song.
The cowboy did his best to find a melody in the song that he could dance to, but ended up in a bent over sway in front of the stage.
Finally, at about 7:35 p.m., two kids - clearly fans - glided in through the entrance. They converged on the crowd with graceful, yet wildly dangerous moves – arms flailing, knees swinging high, they parted the crowd and the party had officially begun.
This band is high energy and they play hard music; it should be experienced firsthand to get the full effect.
At about 8:00 p.m., San Francisco natives, Swingin’ Utters, took the stage, the official opening act for Reverend Horton Heat. The pace slowed, just a baby step mind you, and by then the full crowd was ready to move. A small mosh pit had started towards the front of the stage and eventually grew to encircle a group of women. The women huddled together in the center of the pit while the moshers encircled them. The whole thing resembled a scene out of an old 1950’s Cowboy and Indian film.
Swingin’ Utters has been together since the mid 90’s and their experience shows. Their down and dirty street punk style adds grit to their slightly more melodic sound, even throwing a couple of faintly pop and reggae sounding songs into the mix. Swingin’ Utters played a great set and a great set of old songs intermixed with some new numbers off of their newest album, Here, Under Protest.
Shortly after 9:00 p.m. the Reverend Horton Heat took the stage. The amount of cowboy hats in the audience had doubled, which seemed fitting, considering the band hails from Texas and their new album, Laughin’ & Cryin’ with the Reverend Horton Heat, seems to be a tribute to the Lone Star State (in an offbeat kind of way).
As the lights dimmed and the music changed to a Johnny Cash ballad, the sound of trumpets flooded the room, like something out of an old Hollywood classic film, fitting for a group that has been recording and touring together for 25 years.
Image by: Rik Keller
The Horton Heat take the stage one by one; first Paul Simmons on drums, Jimbo Wallace on standup bass and then Jim “Reverend Horton” Heath on lead vocals and guitar. I have had the pleasure of seeing the Reverend Horton Heat four times now, and I will admit, even shamefully, that I did get discouraged with their performances. My first experience was pure magic; my second was the same, exactly the same, even down to the smallest joke. Then again, in Austin, I was greeted with the same lineup, the same jokes, and yes, my loyalty wavered.
I am now pleased to report that the Reverend Horton Heat has made a comeback in my heart (not that they really ever left). This show was new in its content and its material, but kept all of that same charm and talent that makes the band great.
They entered the stage without a word and got right down to business, kicking off their nearly two-hour set with “Marijuana,” picked up the pace slightly with “Baby, You Know Who,” and then went right into “Lonesome Train Whistle.” Their fourth song was a cover called “Nurture My Pig” by the Dallas, Texas band, Loco Gringos, which was bluesy, swinging and hard rocking all in one.
The romantic and sultry sounding music was coupled with questionable lyrics like, “I got a pig baby, you are my pig.”
Image by: Rik Keller
They played their set chronologically, starting with their first album and working towards their last, continuing with “Cruisin’ for a Bruisin',’” “5-0 Ford,” “Now, Right Now,” “Crooked Cigarette,” “Baby I’m Drunk” and “Jimbo.” Then, of course, came the crowd favorite, the ever popular “The Party in Your Head,” the Reverend Horton “how-off” piece.
As the music started, Jimbo began slapping the bass like he was mad at it. The strings bounced off the neck like they were made of rubber and he began to kneel down, all the while playing a steady bass beat. As the bass was lowered all the way to the ground, Heath got on top of it and rode it like a pro.
Image by: Rik Keller
Standing tall and proud, he played his Gretsch while Jimbo plucked away without even a break in the beat. At the end of the song, Jimbo stood up, raised his bass in the air like a trophy and then threw it and caught it, as if it were weightless.
This is the perfect transition to their new album, Laughin’ & Cryin’ with the Reverend Horton Heat. They played four songs in a row off the new album, starting with “Ain’t No Saguaro in Texas,” a song inspired by the Saguaro cactus, indigenous and almost exclusively found in Arizona and, you guessed it, found nowhere in Texas. Nevertheless, they are depicted on most Texas inspired artwork. The Reverend prefaced the song with a lesson in all things succulent, including a long list of cacti that do grow in Texas.
(Image by: Rik Keller)
Just when we thought that perhaps The Reverend Horton Heat had given up songs about cigarettes, drinking and breakups and had decided to change their image to singing songs about the Texas landscape, they continued their performance with, “Drinkin' & Smokin’ Cigarettes,” and possibly my new favorite, “Please Don’t Take the Baby to the Liquor Store.”
Despite their rough lyrics, The Reverend Horton Heat have got to be the cleanest and most put together guys in the business. Jim Heath plays his Gretsch with seemingly effortless grace, shirt buttoned to the very top button and tucked into pleated and perfectly pressed slacks. His hair neatly combed, he scans the audience, smiling slightly when something strikes him as charming or amusing, even going into “Psychobilly Freakout!” with a stoic expression, just grinning slightly as the crowd goes nuts.
Image by: Rik Keller
Then, just as the crowd is at their highest point, the lights go out and they are gone, beginning one of the hardest worked for encores in recent memory. The lights black, the crowd began to scream and chant, “Reverend! Reverend!”
It tapers off until someone shrieks from the front of the stage and the crowd is revived, chanting and whistling, until again it dies off. A small flash of light revives the crowd and with another couple of minutes of clapping and cheering, they are back on stage.
“I like to hear that! Thank you!” says Jimbo.
They encore with “Bales of Cocaine,” the most amazing drum solo ever performed by a human - it is truly indescribable and hard to believe unless you truly heard it, and a mashup of “Big Red Rocket” and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Image by: Rik Keller
25 years later, this band is still making magic happen at stages around the world. If you haven’t seen them yet, you simply need to; it’s not even something to consider. Bring a date and get ready to furiously swing dance your heart out. This is a touring band and they plan on continuing, so keep them on your calendars y’all!