Live at The Crossroads in the big K-C, it was psychobilly supreme.
By Danny R. Phillips / Photos by Drew Phillips
I ventured out into the heat of a Missouri June night to witness the reigning kings of psychobilly The Reverend Horton Heat, for what would be my fifth time since first seeing them at The Warped Tour sometime in the 1990s. I’ve followed the Dallas, Texas, band for 25 years, from the Sub Pop years, and through 11 albums and four or five drummers. Their blend of country, swing, jazz, rockabilly, punk and metal had always appealed to me at a deeply rooted level. All the sounds of my childhood and teen years blended together in one unstoppable monster.
I had been there for years with anxious anticipation, wondering, what they would do next? How would they push the psychobilly envelope?
When we arrived at The Crossroads in Kansas City, the crowd within the gates was sparse, making me wonder to myself, “Did people not realize the show they would miss?” My photographer and I made our way to the beer stand to procure a warm Coors and wait. Fast forward 45 minutes: the smell of marijuana fills the air as the crowd explodes in size. Standing next to the barricade at the front of the stage, I looked back to see a suddenly packed house; a venue 20% full moments before was now pushing the limits of the venue’s capacity.
Wandering through the crowd, I saw a multi-generational cross-section of the Midwestern rock and roll populous: kids in black metal t-shirts, sleeveless denim jackets, greasers with pompadours sporting cowboy shirts, ten year olds with mohawks, aging punk rockers in faded Descendents and Supersuckers t-shirts, curvy rockabilly chicks with bright red lipstick and poodle skirts and dudes in suits, in total defiance of the 90+ degree temperatures.
As night fell, The Reverend Horton Heat took the stage. Jimbo Wallace readied his upright bass, newest and best Rev Ho drummer RJ Contreras took his position behind the kit and Jim Heath, The Reverend himself, walked to the mic, strapping on his orange signature Gretsch guitar with a big shit eating grin on his face. He knew what was coming and once they began playing, so did we. It would be one of the best live performances I had ever seen. Opening with the instrumental “Bullet” (the band almost always opens a show with an instrumental), the band blew through one hot number after another: “400 Bucks,” “Big Red Rocket of Love,” “It’s Martini Time,” the crowd favorites “Five O Ford” and “Psychobilly Freakout”, Chuck Berry’s “Havana Moon” with guest vocalist Big Sandy of Big Sandy & The Fly-Rite Trio, (one of four songs performed with Sandy) “Baddest of the Bad,” from my personally favorite album Liquor in the Front, and many others.
They even proved their metal chops with their amazing take on the Motorhead classic “Ace of Spades.”
One look at the audience around me revealed people dancing, others hoisting beers while still others just stood and stared at the stage, either high, transfixed by the blistering set or both.
It was a two hours plus clinic on how a performance should be done, that a band with a damn would never “phone in” a show, whether they had been in a band for five minutes or 30 years; it was my friends, a night of psychobilly near perfection.
I’ve often thought that Jim Heath is the best guitarist I’ve ever seen live. On this night, he proved it.