The Reverend Horton Heat in Adelaide
An apology to support band King of the North as I missed them completely and I wish I hadn't because everyone I spoke to was full of praise.
The Gov, Adelaide, May 29, 2013
The support I did catch was Double Black, stand-up bass, drums and guitar. Same format as the Living End, but where the LE prompted me to laugh myself silly a few years ago when I caught them at the BDO (surrounded by their worshipping fans), the DB had me hungry. These guys are the real deal. I dislike the term psychobilly (I keep thinking of I Spit on Your Gravy, chainsaw-wielding front men and clumsy, lazy guitar hidden with floor boxes) but if a band comes close to the term it's DB. Roots purists (and I'm not a fan of purists) might squeal at the chord progressions, but what DB are doing is a crunching, biting crush of modern savagery and the clever structures of fifties r'n'r. In fact, they're well tasty, they've got a cd out, and a 7". I'll see them next time they're here or I'm in Melbourne.
Now, perhaps I was too harsh on the crowd surfers in a recent review.
Looking around me it comes home with a bump: rock'n'roll thrives on braggadocio, boisterous flash narcissism and, the mass market seems to agree, with little or no substance. And it's dress-up time for at least a quarter of the mass here tonight ... and then I get the feeling this 'dressed-up' thing is their everyday wear ... herein lies an underground...
If the rockabilly comeback has its roots in anything apart from the New York Dolls, the Cramps, Ramones and the Stray Cats, it's the slow groundswell of interest in returning to yer roots. For most of us here in Aus, this doesn't mean spirituals, field hollers or the delta blues, no matter how we might prefer it.
No, our roots are in the myth of the USA, where we'd like to go but can't 'cause not only has it all changed but it might never have been there. Musically, Aus's Camelots are London and ... Elvisland.
So, waiting for the Heat's first appearance here, the crowd are all hyped up on the possibility, the reality at last, the actuality. Large men look anxious, the front row ladies hoik their boozies and pose shamelessly.
And so, when The Presence comes out, are we expecting that chainsaw-wielding dick with a stupit haircut?
Nah. Cause Jim Heath (that's the Reverend to you) ain't really psycho anything. That's just promotion.
What the Rev is, is a talented songwriter, tunes and lyrics you remember after the first hearing (they play two new tunes and I'm still humming what I think was Zombie Dumb). The Rev plays his songs in the pure style of the mid-1950s, taking advantage of the genre crossing which was flickering about at the time. Yeah, he uses modern technology, and so what? It's not intrusive, and, if you're a purist twat who tries to pick where which lick, fill and four-note flash comes from, you're missing the point entirely.
See, it's the man. What's he look like? Well, when he first walks out in a freshly laundered pale pink '50s shirt (well-faded on the outside but lewdly pink and textural on the inside – how do I know? Um) he's a little self-conscious, like walking into a mate's party. And when he sees us, he smiles like we're a bunch of old mates. It's not that he's anonymous, just deliberately laid-back. He has nothing to prove, and proves it by playing hard, working his voice, inflections and hell, you can see the man thinking about the lyrics he's played for decades.
The Rev is determined, clever, eccentric, talented and his songs (like Toothbrush) can make you smile and tear up at the same time. He plays carefully, concentrating; the lyrics are more complex than you'd think, and he delivers them like a craftsman should, with love, feel and generosity. Here's a clue to the man: his Gibson looks new. It's only when you get a glimpse of the back, rubbed against his belly for decades around the world, that you realise: it's an old, very much loved guitar.
Jimbo Wallace has played in the Heat for nearly a quarter of a century. And it doesn't show: he knows when to surge forward and engage the crowd, and when to stand back and make the stand-up shiver.
Drum solos don't usually work, but Scott Churilla's do. He's the longest-lasting drummer in the Heat, and by fuck he's good. I saw a couple of techniques I'd never seen live before and, tho flash as hell, the rhythm was superb. By the by, there were people dancing tonight, real proper swing your girl around dancing, and people could see without getting dirty dreads or stinky sneakers in the face. Made a nice change.
The set was mostly old favourites, standouts for me being "Fresh Out of the Box", "Eat Steak", "Galaxie 500" and "400 Bucks". But that's me, and you'd have your own favourites.
Back to the Rev. He's a perfectionist, of course, and when the guitar is slightly wonky he brings down the lights and has segments of cheesy 5ts adverts play over the pa. It's rather comforting in a way, like an intermission, and works far better than it would with just about anyone else. It's the relaxed intensity of the man, the deliberate fun and quality of the set, hell, I don't know, all I know is it shouldn't work but it does. What a wonderful night. He even told us about hurling at the Holiday Inn.
And you missed it.
Catch up at http://www.reverendhortonheat.com/ Maybe buy the live dvd and pretend you didn't miss it after all.
P.S. It did occur to me that, had the world been a bit different, as the Rev got his start on Subpop, what would've happened if instead of the Year Punk Broke, the Year the Reverend Broke. Hmm. Maybe he'd be playing the ghastly Ent Cent across the road, and Rhianna wouldn't. But I bet there'd still be those odd martial arts exhibitions.