Reverend Horton Heat live in Knoxville review: Pure rockabilly punk

The good reverend never disappoints live, but has he slowed down after all these years?
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Rockabilly has always had a dangerous soul. Born from country and the blues, it was the meaner cousin to bluegrass. Throw out the gospel and bring in the rage and that would be rockabilly at its finest. While the Reverend Horton Heat will never stray far from his rockabilly roots, and he will let you know that, there is also a heavy pinch of raw punk as well.

Heat, whose birth name is Jim Heath (he doesn't try to hide that fact; he has the name written on his guitar), knocks out to pick the guitar. He can outperform most other guitarists you might have heard of but his instrument is always tuned to a tone that the theme of The Munsters could match. He might use his pedals to change the harmonics, but the 1950s are always there.

And thank goodness for it. The good reverend might not have posted a bunch of top 40 smashes and he isn't going to match the star power of Taylor Swift, but that has never been his point. Instead, he wants to do what matters most to anyone who has created a note: Heat wants to entertain you. His records are amazing, sure, but live is where he and the other members who make up his trio, most notably bassist Jimbo Wallace, make their bones.

Reverend Horton Heat never fails to entertain

Heat is also smart and fully aware of his surroundings. For instance, at one point early in the band's gig in Knoxville, Tennessee, Heat had to tell the person in charge of the lights how better to light the stage. He did it in a direct but friendly manner. Heat was not stressed; he just wanted a better experience for the audience so they could see the band better.

The issue is that the venue, the Concourse, is an open-floor concert hall that is extremely dark to begin with. Add to that some red light and the mood might become more of a 1970s vibe as if someone were walking down a dark alley listening to "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis." There is nothing wrong with that Tom Waits tune, but it's not what Heat is trying to project.

The Reverend Horton Heat also knows how to put together a setlist. For every cover of a Willie Nelson tune - done in Heat's style, of course - the next song goes full throttle. Heat might have one ear to Eddie Cochran, but he is only a glance away from Black Flag. Plus, the songs he has always produced are the kind that will translate with intensity live.

Next. Overlooked 1980s. Overlooked albums from the 1980s. dark

The opening band, the Surfrajettes, should definitely get a mention here. They do not sing along with their songs, but few bands do surf music as well. They are wildly entertaining without the need to emote. Also of note is that their transportation broke down during the current tour and Heat has lent his equipment to them. Pure class. The Surfrajettes use it well, however, and are worth seeing on their own.

Still, the night belonged to the Reverend Horton Heat with some of the best bits being "Jimbo Song" - a punk song if there ever was one - and, of course, "Psychobilly Freakout." Just for fun, there was a Motorhead cover. The good reverend never fails to surprise, but most importantly, he just gives you a good time.

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