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Concert Review: The Reverend Horton Heat

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Having put countless miles on the tour path for nearly 20 years, nine albums under his belt, inclusion on several video game soundtracks and compilations Jim Heath, a.k.a. The Reverend Horton Heat, is one of the hardest working musicians in the business today. With mainstay Jimbo Wallace on the upright bass and former Those Legendary Shack Shakers drummer Paul Simmons, the Rev pulled the tour bus up for a stop at the House of Blues in Cleveland to let loose the band’s signature brand of punk-infused rockabilly to an overwhelmingly appreciative crowd.

As the curtain went up The Reverend and crew took to the stage and wasted no time jumping into “Big Sky,” the over-drive heavy instrumental that opens their 1994 album <em>Liquor in the Front</em>. Not even stopping to catch their breath, the band followed up with “Baddest of the Bad,” setting the tone for the rest of the evening.

While undoubtedly the king of Scotty Moore-esque rockabilly guitar, the Reverend is no one trick pony, indeed he’s much more the guitar virtuoso having developed several signature guitar licks. With songs including a smattering of jazz, blues, and country all looped back through the Rev’s Gretsch guitar, all styles were on display that Thursday night as the band played stuff from their earlier, more punk influenced material to later more swing and jazz heavy numbers such as “Callin in Twisted,” from their 2004 release, <em>Revival</em>.

Drawing on so many influences invariably makes for a somewhat mixed crowd, and indeed, each sub-genre was represented as men with duckbill hair-dos swung their poodle skirted dates seamlessly mingling with the mosh pitting punk-rock kids as the more sedate, over 40 crowd nursed their beers and smiled at the “young-ins” near the rear of the venue.

About 45 minutes into the set, the band stopped to catch a breath. The Reverend told the crowd that from that point on, they, the audience, would dictate the rest of the evening.

“I keep hearing that we keep playing the same set list, over and over again,” the Reverend said. “But here’s a bit of news to all you so-called Reverend Horton Heat Internet experts – we don’t have a set list! Never have.”

The audience laughed appreciatively and the Reverend continued – “So here’s what we’re going to do, you call out a song and we’ll do it. Now I’ve got to warn you, I’ve written over a hundred songs and I’ve killed enough brain cells that,” said the Rev as he reached up and knocked on his head, “knock, knock, knock, no one’s home! So we’ll do our best to play everything but… OK, so what’ll be?”

Immediately the crowd began calling out their favorites until finally one voice raised above the din, “The Jimbo Song?!” The Reverend questioned. “Well, it wouldn’t have been my first choice,” joked the Reverend and the band launched into the ode to bass player and the only other constant member of the band, Jimbo Wallace, with lightening fervor. The scene continued after each song as notes with song title scratched on them were tossed on stage and chants for other tunes rose up as one completed.

Having lost track of the amount of times I’ve seen the Reverend Horton Heat over the years, I’ve heard some people say that at 40 years old, the Reverend is slowing down a bit. While the level of craziness and antics might not be to the same heights as some of the shows I caught during the early to mid nineties, watching the Reverend work his magic at the House of Blues, November second, there’s no doubt in my mind The Reverend still has that same panache that’s been blowing audiences away for so long now. As he himself said, “40 is the new 20.”

As I said earlier, the Reverend and crew are the hardest working band in the business, so go check out their official website and see when the bus will be stopping in your town, it’s probably sooner then you think!

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