First, a botany lesson. The honorable Reverend Horton Heat would like you to know that there ain’t no saguaro in Texas. In a sentiment familiar to those of us raised in the oft-fetishized West, the Rev (a.k.a. Jim Heath) played a new song at the Ogden on Thursday night about the many cacti one might find in his home state, none of which are the mighty saguaro.
It’s songs like “There Ain’t No Saguaro in Texas” that make the Reverend Horton Heat such an enduring figure (and band) in American underground music; a sense of wry humor, astonishing guitar chops and a deep reverence for his sound that both honors and innovates. While many rockabilly songs sound like they could have been composed 50 years ago, their ability to bring in fresh new crowds of inked, mohawked, pompadoured and pierced devotees is a testament to the music’s persistent allure.
Reno Divorce did a fine job of warming the crowd with their local brew of punk-flavored rockabilly (“He’s a F**ker” reminded me of the post-hardcore I used to try to scare my mom with as a teenager). It had been a long, long time since my last Reno Divorce show, but I took comfort in their familiar sound: like getaway music for a Quentin Tarantino film.
Deadbolt burst onto stage with a spray of sparks (Really! Sparks!) and a look that can only be described as Blues Brothers-meets-Biker-Gang. Self-described as “the scariest band in the world,” the men of Deadbolt assault their audience with three — count ‘em, three — bassists, karate chop schtick, rubber snakes and a truly unique take on the rockabilly sound. Their almost Devo-like spoken-word vocal stylings mingle with insane bass for a gothic, bone-rattling form of surf-rock.
A fanfare welcomed the Rev to the Ogden stage, where he promptly launched into the hollowbody artistry that is “Big Blue Car.” Accompanied by his bassist, Jimbo Wallace, and drummer Paul Simmons, the Rev began the set moving swiftly through songs. By the time he announced a full-blown psychobilly freakout, the crowd was in a slam-dance frenzy.
Noting that Denverites still had their holiday decorations up (to a chorus of explanations of the venerable Stock Show tradition), the band played a version of “What Child is This” that sounded like something from a Sergio Leone film, and a faithful adaptation of “Run Run Rudolph.”
Keeping up the breakneck pace, the Rev burned through several old and new songs before getting to the true vintage stuff (“Baddest of the Bad,” a personal favorite) and pulling out all the stops — like standing on Jimbo’s upright bass whilst playing “Devil’s Chasing Me.”
While the encore songs re-introduced the band members with individual solos (a bit of a denouement for such a kinetic, cohesive show), I nevertheless left the Ogden feeling as though I’d been given the true Reverend Horton Heat treatment. And I learned a little something about succulents in the process.
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Cassandra Schoon is an assistant manager at Sportique Scooters and a regular Reverb contributor.
Joshua Elioseff is a Boulder-based freelance photographer and new contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.