All words: Jeb Gavin
Everyone has that song that first introduced you to bawdy rock idiocy. For most people, it was Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling”. For me, it was pretty much everything the Reverend Horton Heat ever made (with infrequent cuts from Commander Cody.) In fact, psychobilly as a whole tends to regress me to a state of juvenile delight, going ape shit over an anachronistic concept of hedonism. Sadly, I’d never seen the good Reverend live until Tuesday night when they played with LA punk band X at the 9:30 Club, allowing me to cross yet another name off my band bucket list.
The Reverend Horton Heat played a song from each of their albums, in order, with occasional drop-ins of radio ads for local hot rod and funny car races, before playing a few of their greatest hits. Their opener, “Psychobilly Freakout” does a good job of explaining the band and the genre, flitting back and forth between electric roots rock and roll (with a foot still firmly planted in Country & Western) and psychedelic rock. Most of the songs harken back to the greaser era, bowling shirts and pegged jeans, hollow-body guitars and upright basses. Luckily, psychobilly as a genre always avoided self parody with unabashed love for the time-warping goofiness. Songs like “Marijuana” sound like something you’d hear listening to Wolfman Jack, even though you’d have to have lived on the Mexican border in the 1950s (or obsess over American Graffiti) to appreciate it fully. The set was a short one, though I could’ve listened to them play their more instrumental tracks all night. There is power in knowing you’re being goofy and milking it. That said, would it have fucking killed them to play “Bales of Cocaine”?
X were the headliners, but for some reason they’ve never done it for me. Great band, good music, and they play a hell of a live show. Bassist and vocalist John Doe kind of looks like an amped up Neil Young, thrashing away at a Fender bass like a man a third his age. On the far side of the stage, Billy Zoom stood grinning like a wax museum version of the serial killer John Lithgow played on Dexter.
Speaking directly to my opinion of the music, I really don’t have one. The LA punk scene was, as far as I’m aware, the last distinct segment of punk music I noticed, even after working my way through punk adjacent scenes like proto punk, pop punk, ska, racist oi, and (of course sadly) emo. Perhaps it was never having been west of the Rockies, or growing up on Sublime and not working my way back through the influences as diligently as I could’ve, but I never cottoned to X. For years, I never mentally connected psychobilly and punk the same way I mentally separated punk from no wave. Anything treading too close to crossing from one to another bothered me as a taxonomically-obsessed jackass, so a punk band that played with a Western flare that wasn’t out and out psychobilly always rubbed me the wrong way.
Having seen X live now, I’m not trying to disparage them. They’re still out there, loving every minute they’re on stage, engaging with the audience, tearing through their songs, but it’s not for me. “Beyond and Back” was pretty impressive, and I really enjoyed the acoustic version of “Once Over Twice” Doe did with singer Exene Cervenka towards the end, but otherwise I could take it or leave it.
- Reverend Horton Heat:
- Not In The Face: