The Hype: If you've had a chance to pick up the Texas psychobilly pioneers' latest album, Laughin' & Cryin' With the Reverend Horton Heat, then you've probably noticed that for the most part, psycho has been surgically removed from billy.
The songs on this record run the gamut from standard jump blues to swing to country and western, as opposed to the full-tilt punk-flavored freakouts of say 1994's Liquor in the Front
. But whatever the consensus ends up being on the Reverend Horton Heat's latest studio outing, there's no arguing that this three-piece has been known to deliver performances of legendary caliber. Reverend Horton Heat shows have always been something to behold, if not simply for the proficiency of the musicians, then for the trademark stunt wherein bassist Jimbo Wallace lays his upright bass on its side, and the Revered Horton Heat (aka Jim Heath) steps atop the behemoth instrument while the music crescendos behind him. Expectations were high. It was time to see if these desert rats still had teeth.
The Show: The House of Blues Anaheim was packed to the rafters for this one. Inside, it was hot and muggy--like a gulf coast squall was about to tear through. But during the first few numbers, it was difficult to gauge whether or not Heath was phoning it in. He exuded a Southern genteel quality that at times seemed at odds with the crowd's raucous enthusiasm. Looking almost diminutive behind his large hollow body Gretsch guitar, Heath paced the stage squinting under the lights and cracking a casual smile from time to time. Meanwhile, Wallace furiously slapped at his upright.
During the third or fourth song, a loud crack ripped from one of the speakers eliciting confused looks of concern from each of the band members. They managed to play through however. Things suddenly kicked into high gear when the band broke in to the song "Galaxy 500." The pit, which had already been seething, erupted into a blur of elbows and fists as beer cans flew overhead. During this number, Heath let out a wicked raspy howl that would give any Swedish death metal singer reason to blush. But it was near the end of the show, during a lull in the song "The Devil's Chasing Me," off the band's 1993 album The Full Custom Gospel Sounds, that Heath tilted his head back and Wallace laid his bass on its side. Heath stepped atop, the music surged and it was hard to suppress chills.
One can hardly blame Heath if after ten albums and two decades of touring, he's grown a tad road weary. But the casual demeanor he exhibited while delivering nimble rapid fire solos reminded one of just how easy he makes the impossible look. Regardless of whether the passion remains, what is certain is that Reverend Horton Heat's frontman has perfected the art of commanding an audience's attention and unleashing their collective energy.
The headliner's set was preceded by Boston punk rock outfit Street Dogs, whose sound can best be described as equal parts Pennywise and Good Charlotte.
The Crowd: During Street Dogs' set, the crowd was mostly comprised of muscle-bound punk rockers. Some were middle aged and sporting faux hawks with bleached tips. They eventually yielded the floor to girls with red carnations in their hair and men with pomade slick dos and rattlesnake embossed dress shirts. There was at least one Katy Perry look alike. The audience's enthusiasm barely wavered throughout the Reverend's lengthy set. The only time the pit quieted down was during the period when the band played songs off their latest album. Otherwise, the crowd sang along blithely to such perennial favorites as "Bales of Cocaine," and even the vintage-sounding country ballad, "Where in the Hell Did you go With My Toothbrush."
Overheard: "Things are going to get out of control if Brian Setzer comes out here," said one drunken male fan as the Heath related an anecdote about the former Stray Cat teaching Eddie Van Halen a guitar lick at a party.