Written by Eric Sperrazza
After a fantastic phone conversation with Nate Hilts of the Dead South and some subsequent pleasantries on Twitter before the big show, I was more than excited to see the band up close and personal. I secured the attendance of the biggest fan of the Dead South I knew… my Father! We then spent the week binging all the music we could get our hands on by Hilts and the gang leading up to the show.
I have a growing love affair with the Fillmore is quite an understatement. I have received so much great music and made so many epic memories at that venue that now it is just synonymous in my mind with positive vibes. Walking in there with my Dad once more to bond over solid live music is a feeling that never seems to get old for me. So we made our way to the front of the stage, beverage in hand, and waited for the lights to dim.
The opener was a band I had never heard of before, but I will never forget: Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. This trio from Indiana is a vintage rockabilly blues band consisting of Max Senteney (drums), Breezy Peyton (washboard), and Reverend Peyton himself (guitar/lead vocals)…literally, that’s it.
Although they tore down the house with a big damn sound and enormous energy, exuding big damn fun all the while, their genius is that they aren’t that big at all! Reverend Peyton uses his thumb on his E string to play the back-boned bass notes, and yet his other fingers furiously go through complex chord progressions and single-note solos effortlessly. Everything from cigar box guitars to Gibson acoustics and steel electrics flew in and out of the Reverend‘s hands during their set.
Some of their more recent hits of the 2021 EP release, Dance Songs For Hard Times, like “Ways and Means” and “Too Cool To Dance.” The band also went into favorites that fans yelled verbatim as they played, including songs such as “Poor Until Payday” and “Pot Roast & Kisses.” When I tell you that the electricity left amongst the audience was palpable after exiting the stage, know that is the only way TO describe the aftermath of that show. I literally can’t think of a better way to describe the static in the room!
A tough act to follow, but the Dead South was certainly equipped to do just that.
With the lights down low, the silhouettes of the Fab-Four of Bluegrass lined up onstage to an uproar of faithful fans. Throughout the night, the band performed either lined up and in perfect synchronicity, or broke form to literally jam out and show the passion in their performance. It’s as if John Cusack’s character, Rob Gordon, was plucked out of the High Fidelity universe and tasked with creating the perfect setlist of Dead South hits for the band to perform, and Cusack absolutely nailed it.
Every song strategically moved the audience down a journey of their talents. They navigated ticket holders through tracks like “Diamond Ring,” “Broken Cowboy,” “Smootchin’ in the Ditch” to their breakout hit, “In Hell, I’ll Be in Good Company.” The band also offered up some of their newer covers from their recently released EP, Easy Listening for Jerks Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, including the darker feeling, “You Are My Sunshine,” and The Misfits’ cover of “Saturday Night.” (Of which I belted out every word as any good Misfits fan would do!)
By the time the Dead South wrapped it up for the night, the people around me were completely drenched from the steam heat generated by the packed crowd, all clambering to be closer to the stage, and moving joyously to the magnetism of the music, pulling them collectively off the ground.
As my Dad and I made our way back to my car in the Fillmore parking lot (which seemingly ranges from “free” to thirty dollars, depending on the week), all we could find ourselves saying was, “What a great show. I mean…what a GREAT show,” back and forth for the thirty-minute ride back to his home. That was the extent of our banter. And why? Because in one night, two bands were such a tour de force before us that two chatty grown extroverts who love to write were too speechless to say much more.
If that isn’t the most glowing testimony I have ever given, I do not know what is. And, if you love music like Social Distortion, Nathaniel Rateliff, Mumford & Sons, and Old Crow Medicine Show and you haven’t seen the ‘Served Cold’ tour yet, every second that you’re still reading this column and not buying tickets is a disservice to you!
My only honest criticism is this: The Dead South performs the best cover of The Doors’ “People Are Strange,” and I still have yet to hear it live. Perhaps, too much “awesome” couldn’t be contained to the Fillmore. It was probably good service to the city of Philadelphia not to spill that much excitement into the streets; for that, the city of Brotherly Love is filled with gratitude.
But next time around, Nate? It is a need, not a want, in your set list for me.
Connect with Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
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