Fans turned out in droves to see psychobilly pioneer Reverend Horton Heat perform at Wooly’s in Des Moines on Tuesday, April 19. What they saw was not quite the show they were expecting. For most fans, the show was even better than what the Rev has been putting on for years. However, some fans were having a bit of a, well, psychobilly freakout.
Now, to be clear, there may not exist a Reverend Horton Heat performance that was subpar. Jim, Jimbo, and Scott showed why they are in demand all over the world. Jim Heath’s trademark rapid-fire riffs, including the “Hurricane Lick” where he plays both lead and rhythm guitar simultaneously on the same guitar, were as dead on as ever. Scott Churilla is like a machine gun on the drums, except that machine guns don’t mix in all the twirls that the Rev’s drummer does with his sticks. Churilla is a mixture of speed and style that is rare in rockabilly (or any other genre for that matter). Jimbo Wallace tackled the upright bass with the speed and ferocity that one would expect from a linebacker (which, as the Reverend pointed out last night, Jimbo once was), but he combines that ferocity with the accuracy of a quarterback. Together, the trio tore through their set like their fans have come to expect, featuring standards like “Psychobilly Freakout,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Jimbo Song,” “Let Me Teach You How to Eat,” “400 Bucks,” and “The Devil’s Chasing Me” (where Heath plays his traditional guitar solo standing atop Wallace’s bass).
What had some fans upset was not the Reverend’s music, it was that he shared so much of his stage time with other artists. In the middle of the Rev’s set, the trio became the backing band for Squidbilly voice actor and self-proclaimed “king of country-western troubadours” Unknown Hinson. Unknown Hinson (born Stuart Daniel Baker) is a talented guitar player and entertainer, and his country-tinged psychobilly music fit well with RHH. If he would have played a set before the Reverend, I am sure that no one would have complained. However, some of the fans that paid their money to see the Reverend Jim and the boys didn’t like Unknown Hinson taking time away from Reverend Horton Heat’s set. To make things worse (or better, depending on which side of the fence one sat last night), Reverend Jim started his encore with both Unknown Hinson and opener Lucky Tubb onstage with him for Ernest Tubb’s “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin.” Tubb, as the great nephew of Ernest Tubb, took the lead on the song. Tubb then left and Unknown Hinson finished the short encore with Reverend Horton Heat again backing him. Unknown Hinson was even the one to thank the crowd for coming. It was an odd, though quite generous, choice for Heath to set up the show in that manner. Fans generally expect to hear the headliner play the encore, but many would argue that the jam session that they got was even better. From a strictly musical perspective, the bill was high quality from top to bottom, and no music fan, no matter their expectations coming in, could argue that.