|Dunno what they feed those boys down in Texas. Human growth hormone,
I'm guessing, from the size of the bass player. Jumbo shrimp and pituitary
extract. Whatever the fuel, the Reverend Horton Heat blazed through a furious
set Thursday night at the Town Pump. By the show's end I suspect the bassist
had polished his fingerprints down to perfect smooth and glossy nubs of
flesh, like one of those deformed Dick Tracy villains.
One drum-kit, one stand-up bass, one guitar and three maniacs: this is not necessarily my recipe for a good time. The opening salvo of rhythm-and-noise was a small wonder of amplification and endurance, but it left me unimpressed. A similar effect could be produced by cranking up a Hank Williams CD to distortion levels and fast-forwarding through 5 or 6 tracks.
After this things started to improve. Can't say why, exactly. Maybe the band realized they weren't going to get the show over with any sooner by playing faster; maybe the guy at the sound-board got the mix right; maybe my hearing was now sufficiently damaged to filter out some of the noise.
I have a lot more tolerance for noise when a band can produce something else besides -- noise by choice, not noise by default. Over the next hour we got a fine demonstration of diversity, with enough talented playing to justify 'most any ruckus.
Fast-forward rockabilly and country were the mainstays, with tasty forays into blues and beatnik jazz. The Reverend has a righteous voice when he wants to let you hear it, dropping for those low notes with a thrilling lack of effort. He screams good, sure, but he sings better. For spice, add a dollop of disco, some fun with feedback, and campy bass menace reminiscent of the theme from Get Smart. The lads even pulled out a couple of surf tunes, just to remind us that Texas isn't a land-locked state. The evening finished off with the much-requested "Psychobilly Freakout" and a couple encores. All told, a fine serving of the burnt bits scraped from the bottom of the melted pot of American roots music.
The obligatory musical comparison? Think early Violent Femmes, gone huge and nasty on anabolic steroids. I have a vision of a video for these guys, full of slamming cowboys and line-dancing punks. The bartender loved the band, by the way. That's a pretty high recommendation, when you realize that the guy probably has to listen to more acts than your average A&R geek.
The Pump cleared out pretty quickly after the show. Jim Morrison was still drinking whiskey at the back bar, confused Euro-tourists lingered on the floor wondering if the show was over, and a handful of the faithful gathered on-stage for pointers on the slap-bass. Despite the preceding mayhem, the Reverend's greased-back hair was still in perfect shape. Not a single strand of hair had been dislodged.
It was only a small miracle, admittedly, but there were many witnesses.