by Jane Roser
Culminating at Philly’s Trocadero and DC’s 9:30 Club, The Reverend Horton Heat ended the two week leg of their tour as they normally would; with some surprises, lots of frenetic energy and a whole lot of fire and brimstone, head-banging, shack-shaking, rockabilly freak out.
Besides hula-hooping whilst watching the latest episode of Supernatural and playing chicken with large tractors on a field with ‘No Trespassing’ signs, attending a Rev show is one of my favorite pastimes. Their high octane reinterpretation of country blues rock and roll leaves you on a glorious evangelical high.
The show at the 9:30 Club opened with two psychobilly bands, Canada’s The Creepshow, whose songs are mostly about horror films, and Danish band, Nekromantix, whose founder and frontman Kim Nekroman has a custom-made “coffinbass” that has a body in the shape of a coffin. These bands kicked the night off with hard-core psychobilly rock and a resulting mosh pit in the center of the club that even security couldn’t penetrate.
The Reverend Horton Heat (founder Jim Heath, bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla) took the stage at 9pm-ish and went straight into a rockabilly instrumental, followed by “Smell of Gasoline”, which is my favorite song off their new album REV. Heath is a kick to watch, he’s very precise in his actions and habits. He will march in place, point to the audience, make subtle hand gestures and smiles a lot. I would, too, if I were having this much fun!
“Psychobilly Freakout” burst out like flames from a house fire and Kim Nekroman joined the gang on stage to play Wallace’s bass for a few minutes. The energy in the room was palpable and I could hear people next to me saying ‘that was awesome’. You could tell that the band was having a grand ol’ time and they seem to psychically know what each other is thinking, they gel so well after years of performing together.
‘”The Devil’s Chasing Me” is pure hot-rod rockabilly and Heath punctuates this song with his famous “I can stand on Jimbo’s bass without missing a beat and make it seem effortless” that anyone who has ever been to a Rev show waits anxiously for. The hit “Martini Time” was played next, which is always a great late night tune to hear: “Hey, buddy do you got the time? No I don’t got a watch can you spare a dime, but I got two olives and a couple of limes, guessin’ that means it’s martini time.”
When the Rev introduces a song off their album Space Heater, he jokes that “this album is widely recognized as being the worst album we ever did.” The song, “Jimbo”, is about “America’s foremost truck stop knick knack shopper. He’s from Deerpark, Texas, home of the Shell Oil Refinery.” This is a fun song because it’s an audience participation sing-a-long.
Next came the single “Let Me Teach You How To Eat” off their new album and I noticed a man in a huge cowboy hat off stage who was so in the moment, that he couldn’t help but play along to this song, too. This man turned out to be the guest star of the night, Deke Dickerson, whom Heath introduces as a really hot guitar picker that he discovered killing it in Southern California. Dikerson is not only a bad ass guitarist, but is also the ‘world’s foremost guitar archaeologist’ who wrote a book called The Strat In The Attic, which I hope I can find on Amazon this week. Dickerson comes on stage wearing his huge cowboy hat and carrying a nifty double neck guitar that even has his name printed on it. The audience is chanting “Deke!” from various points in the crowd until it becomes a really cool echo. He starts off with a song called “I Got A Big Guitar And I Play It Good”, and I’m glad to know that’s very true. They play a Gene Autry tune, then a Reverend Horton Heat instrumental song called “The Millionaire”. “These guys did a great song called ‘The Millionaire'” to which someone in the crowd shouted out “Fuck yeah!” Deke, without missing a beat, says politely, “that’s right!” This was a great, whip-fast song that made your heat skip a beat and my friend, Hugh, to comment, “it’s kind of like a rockabilly ‘Devil Went Down To Georgia!” After the applause had died down Dickerson says, “and just in case you were wondering; yes, that was as much fun as it looked.”
Dickerson had the audience rolling when he said, “if any of you girls are thinking of going out west, I’ve got a Chrysler covered in salt and we can stop at every $39 motel along the way. I even got a shine, and when I say shine, I mean I got a case of moonshine in the trunk.” Then he commented, “I like this, it’s like a stripper mosh pit out here tonight.”
Dickerson played a few more songs with the Rev, including “Muleskinner Blues” (“an old country song”) and kicked it up a notch with a song he called “Speed Metal”. During this number, they did something I have never seen done before. Heath sat on a stool and Dickerson came up behind him, put his double neck guitar in Heath’s lap and then they each played a neck. I had to blink twice to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Wallace then gave his bass to Dickerson to play while he worked the chord changes for Heath, who strummed along. Did I mention that this was all in tune and timed perfectly? Incredible.
After Dickerson left the stage, they played “Bales of Cocaine”, which is my go-to road trip song. Heath changed the Dallas reference to DC and the audience ate it up: “So I loaded up them bales in my pick-em-up truck, headed west for Dallas (DC), where I would try my luck, I didn’t have a notion if I could sell ’em there, but, thirty minutes later, I was a millionaire.” “Big Red Rocket Of Love”, which was a hit off of the It’s Martini Time album, threw some more fuel on the fire and as Heath played his guitar solo faster than the speed of light, he shouted, “somebody stop me!” I love it when musicians throw their picks into the audience and in true neighborly style, Heath did this twice.
The encore may have well been a show in itself, it was fabulously long and intense. Heath came out to say, “we’re now going to do the most obvious cover song in the history of rock and roll,” and they launch into a rocking retro “Jonny B Goode” that had folks literally dancing in the aisles, while Heath and Wallace at one point in the song switched instruments. “Did you see that?” commented Wallace on Heath’s bass playing, “he was riding that thing like a horse!”
Churillo performed a 15-20 minute drum solo that I can only describe as this man can channel Led Zeppelin’s Bonzo. He played so fast, you couldn’t even see the drumsticks, which he was able to twirl around in each hand, beat the drum, twirl in the other hand, beat, then twirl in both hands and kick some ass. No one can teach that, it’s just magic. Hugh keeps saying to me, “are you seeing this?! Oh my God! Pour some sugar on me, you’ve got to respect someone who can drum like that.”
The Reverend Horton Heat always delivers a show that will knock your socks off and this one was no different. Heath couldn’t help but joke that, “we’re actually one of the only bands since the 1960’s that will actually fade ourselves out.” But until this cowboy retires his spurs, the Rev will keep saddlin’ up to ride off into the sunset and we’d be wiser folk for joining that posse.