Review: Rev. Horton Heat

(Above: The Rev. Horton Heat pays tribute to his long-suffering bass player with “The Jimbo Song.” This performance is from September, 2009, at the Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The Rev. Horton Heat needed only the briefest introduction to clue the crowd at Crossroads KC on Friday night in on what would happen for the next 95 minutes: “It’s a psychobilly freakout.”

Backed by a two-piece rhythm section and singing into a vintage microphone, the reverend spent the first half of the set tearing down his back catalog, playing one song from each album in chronological order (but skipping the Christmas platter).

revIf Brian Setzer dropped the Vegas schtick, he’d sound a lot like Heat. The stripped-down, hot-rod sound that supercharges rock and country is an admittedly narrow shaft to mine, but Heat was able to vary the mood.

“Martini Time” found the singer in lounge mode, while “Indigo Friends” was built around warp-speed Chicago blues. The “Jimbo Song” sounded like a lost Ramones track, and hints of surf guitar snuck into a few guitar solos.

Although Heat’s catalog is based on original compositions, he peppered several covers into the second half of the set. “Johnny B. Goode” and “Folsom Prison Blues” made expected appearances, as did Merle Haggard’s “Honky Tonk Night Time Man” and Bill Haley’s “Rock This Joint.” Dirtfoot saxman Scott Gerardy joined the band for the Haley and Johnny Cash numbers and the original noir study “Lonely Gun.”

The performance capped an evening of genre studies at Crossroads. Hometown rockabilly revivalists Rumblejetts opened the night. The six-piece ensemble Dirtfoot brought the night’s most distinctive sounds. The Louisiana-based band wasn’t afraid to put both saxophone and banjo to work on the same song and find out what happens during the ensuing jam.

Ha Ha Tonka singer Brian Roberts was clearly glad to be back in his native Missouri. He was frequently stomping around stage, emphatically strumming his acoustic guitar. The jangly quartet’s 45-minute set featured old favorites like “Buckle on the Bible Belt” and “Usual Suspects.” The band borrowed a song from fellow Springfield act Red Meat, “12 Inch 3 Speed Oscillating Fan,” which got much of the crowd singing along. That was followed by a quiet a cappella performance of the traditional song “Hangman (Gallows Pole).”

Setlist: Psychobilly Freakout, Lonesome Train Whistle, Baddest of the Bad, Martini Time, Jimbo Song, The Party in Your Head, Galaxy 500, Indigo Friends, Drinkin’ and Smokin’ Cigarettes, Johnny B. Goode, Honky Tonk Night Time Man, Lonely Gun, Rock this Joint, 400 Bucks, Bales of Cocaine, Devil’s Chasing Me. Encore: Big Red Rocket of Love > drum solo > Folsom Prison Blues > Big Red Rocket of Love.

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