Reverend Horton Heat
July 13, 2012
Uptown Nightclub, Oakland
Better than: Sitting quietly in the back pew on Sunday morning.
Reverend Horton Heat knows how to throw a 25th anniversary party for himself: A) play two back-to-back shows (tonight's the encore performance) on the new trendy side of the Bay in a spacious yet intimate venue with a boot-stomping dancefloor, booming P.A., beautiful inked bartenders, good cheap drinks ($4 microbrews), and a reasonable ticket price ($20); B) add a pair of complementary musical conspirators (one an old-school contemporary: the Supersuckers; the other a relative newcomer: the Goddamn Gallows); C) blow the roof off the place with amps on 11 and shredder guitar music that revels in the evil powers of rock 'n' roll.
Satan was in the house Friday night. Bands and fans alike welcomed his pleasures-of-the-flesh influence. The Goddamn Gallows summoned the Beast first with a blistering punk cover of "In League with Satan," an ancient anthem by proto-metal band Venom. There's little funnier (or sexier) than watching rockabilly pin-up girls shout: "Evil! In league with Sa-tan!" over and over and over again. Then the Supersuckers -- self-proclaimed "greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world" -- revealed their own nefarious nature with the popular "Born with a Tail" singalong and between-song banter about puppies, which was only allowed "if you're talking about getting them high, fucking them, or killing them," said singer Eddie Spaghetti. As expected, the Reverend delivered a ruthless "Baddest of the Bad," the epic standard off his third album, Liquor in the Front. But the devil lived less in the good Rev's lyrics about excessive drinking and self-destructive behavior and more in the deep reverb hollows of his six-string sound, which drags you to the crossroads and pistol-whips your ass into blissful submission.
Each of the bands tonight was well aware of their performative moment in the spotlight. The Goddamn Gallows's multi-instrumentalist, who simply goes by the name Avery, is a master of punk theater. He played the washboard, accordion, drums, and himself. He jumped around the stage and antagonized his bandmates. He gesticulated cunnilingus to the girls up front. He stage-dived into a bucket. He flashed his tattoos at the audience, including a portrait of General Lee, whom he described to us later as "the greatest man who lived because, as I understand it, he never went back on his word, he was loyal to the core to Virginia [Avery's home state], and he believed buttermilk could cure all illnesses." The Supersuckers came on with Les Pauls a-blazing, as phallic as they wanted to be, a worthy homage to predecessors like AC/DC, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones. The Reverend started his set with video clips from his anniversary DVD, which included scenes from a hot concert he did at the Fillmore a couple years back. Our feelings watching footage of tunes we were just about to see and anecdotes from band members about life on the road for over a quarter of a century went from "This is stupid," to "That was cool," to "This is weird," to "But they fucking rock." Audience member Rebecca Sheldon best summed up the experience: "He's his own opening act."
This was not a show for the faint of heart. The guys in the Goddamn Gallows were goddamn scary-looking -- more hardcore ink (on faces, no less) than any band we've ever seen -- and a ferocious energy that implied a kill-'em-all attitude. A guy in the audience suggested that they'd all spent time in prison. And yet they were fun, and fun-loving, and Mr. Avery from the Confederate South was a post-apocalyptic vaudevillian entertainer of the highest caliber. Speaking with them afterwards, they came across as super friendly, too. The pit was a similar affair. It was a danger zone, of course, if you weren't on guard, but if you were, the atmosphere was something like a drunken backporch hoedown, complete with water hose (flying beers), kissing cousins (those rockabilly ladies), and barefoot moshing (the boldest woman in the bunch, a self-styled "rockstar," she called herself, kicked off her pink heels and kicked the shit outta the rockabilly boys). We swing-danced with beautiful strangers, carving out our own tiny eye in the storm. It was a warm reward for braving the crush at the front of the stage, and really, the only way to experience the humanity that pulses at the heart of rock 'n' roll.
Snapping Photos: It's nearly impossible to get clear pics in low light without a flash when you're being pummeled by punk dervishes.
Tips for dancing in a mosh pit: Hold your partner tight around the waist (to prevent her from getting knocked down), wing your elbows out whenever possible (to repel said knocker downers), and always keep your eyes open (flailing bodies can come at you from any direction at at any time).