I have to confess, when it comes to the Reverend Horton Heat, I've always been one of those annoying "you shoulda seen them back in '93" kind of guys. The band's Sub Pop debut, Smoke 'em If You Got 'em, was so killer — a blast of raw, raunchy rock replete with an anthem for carnivores ("Eat Steak") — that it's hard to imagine them ever topping it. (Plus, there was that great, misleading record sleeve, where the Reverend looks like a country preacher whose songs might actually be about finding Jesus instead of marijuana and cunnilingus.)
But the Reverend (known to his mama as Jim Heath) is coming through town this week, and he has a new record out, giving me a convenient opportunity to confront my prejudice. Lucky 7 is actually a pretty fine record, not quite as fresh and deliciously rough around the edges as Smoke 'em, but certainly sufficient to encourage those who've strayed from the flock to come to the big tent revival at Sunset Station.
As for what he's doing, if you haven't heard it: Heath doesn't like to call his music "psychobilly," but he kind of made his bed when he wrote "Psychobilly Freakout" for his first disc. Listeners were happy to latch onto that term to indicate that RHH's stuff is one or two steps beyond the generally tamer rockabilly music it resembles. Throw Dick Dale and Link Wray into that idiom, give them illegal stimulants and put them onstage at a strip club, and you get the idea.
Lucky 7, happily, doesn't try to polish the Reverend's sound too much (Heath: "The guitar sound on the last record was real natural ... we felt it was time to get back to chainsaw distortion."), and he throws in a few generic songs such as "Like A Rocket" that are fine showcases for his cranked-up rockabilly style. More intriguing for repeat listening is "Galaxy 500," about a bitter break-up that's sweetened by the fact that, since it's not air-conditioned, our hero gets to keep the car (even if he doesn't know how to spell it: as a great '80s indie band knew, it's spelled "Galaxie").
Continuing the theme of relationship trouble, "Go With Your Friends" is probably the coolest-sounding number here, with Jimbo Wallace's insistent bull fiddle supporting the singer's sneering, minor-key rant. In between are instrumental breathers like the cool Spaghetti Western "Duel at the Two O'Clock Bell" and the cowpoke "Show Pony." (And coming from a band who named one record Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear, we can safely assume that this pony show isn't intended for minors.)
Closing the record is a two-part sermon: "Sermon on the Jimbo"/"You've Got a Friend in Jimbo." While the the second part of the actual song is a bit dull, the long-spoken intro is a hilarious spirit-lifting testament to true friendship. In your darkest hour of temptation, the Reverend says, "Jimbo will sit with you and watch a nature show. When you are feeling down, Jimbo will lift you up and take you for a ride in his pick-up," and "come in your house bearing a six-pack of goodwill and joy." What more could a man want?
If the answer to that question is "fire breathing sluts with fake boobs" (and, almost certainly for this crowd, it is), the nice churchgoing people of Sunset Station have arranged for Nashville Pussy to warm up the stage for the Heat. Don't plan much for the next day; I can hear the hangover moans approaching.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Reverend Horton Heat
With Nashville Pussy and Tiger Army
Sunday, April 14
$5 advance, $15 day of show
1174 E. Commerce