The Reverend Horton Heat
The Rose, Pasadena
January 27, 2018
This past Saturday, this reporter caught a show for the first time at The Rose, a high-end supper club in Pasadena. This is the newest member of the family of clubs that includes The Canyon Clubs in Agoura Hills and Santa Clarita, and The Saban in Beverly Hills and, like its brethren, caters to an older, more established crowd. But just because the menu offers some fancy vittles at rather lofty prices doesn’t mean that things on stage won’t get a bit more down-to-earth – as was proven at Saturday’s show.
Riverside’s own Voodoo Glow Skulls hit the stage like a wheelbarrow full of sledgehammers, smashing brains and taking names. Frontman Efrem Shulz, roared and cajoled the crowd from beneath a red satin luchador demon mask, skanking and cranking his way through a solid rapid-fire set which included some of the best-known numbers by this badass brass-plated punk-ska band. Highlights included “Misfit Toys”, “Who Do?”, “Fire in the Dance Hall”, “Smile Now, Cry Later”, and even a high-energy cover of the old Coasters’ chestnut “Charlie Brown”, featuring Reverend Horton Heat keyboardist Matt Jordan banging away on the 88s. Fun Fact: this show marked the 20th anniversary of the Skulls’ and Rev’s first tour together. All in all, a great show, but this dinner show venue might have been a bit too civilized for these freewheeling Funhouse Freakazoids!! Ay, dios mio!
Then, From out of the shadows came the twang and roar of a hollow-body Gretsch and the unmistakable shout of the Rev himself – “It’s a psychobilly freak out!” And with that signature call, another Reverend Horton Heat show was underway, promising another night of raucous rockabilly fun. And Jim Heath and the boys delivered on that promise from the first downbeat to the last chord. Favorites, new and old, included “Big Little Baby”, “Five-O Ford”, “The Devil’s Chasing Me”, and – of course – “The Jimbo Song” J-I-M-B-O!
The first segment of the show introduced us to two of the newer members of the band: RJ “Mr. Contreras” Contreras on drums, who pounded the skins with soul and skill, meshing with Jimbo’s upright bass lines in clockwork precision; and Matt Jordan on keys, whose fine fingerwork recalled shades of Jerry Lee and Dr. John with an unexpected sophistication that betrayed his mere 20-something years. One particular highlight was when the Rev and Jimbo swapped axes for a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie”, and Jimbo wailed on six strings for a change. Some fun!
This portion of the evening also featured a new tune on me. Following a hilarious story of the night Jimbo and a tour manager found themselves drinking, much to their surprise, in a gay country-western bar in Fresno, the Rev treated us to what he described as ”the most embarrassing song I’ve ever written” – “Interracial Cowboy Homo Kinda Love.” Yee-ha-ha-ha!
At this point, the Rev asked for our patience as another mic was set up on stage. After sharing a bit of history of his early experiences in L.A.s thriving rockabilly scene, the Rev brought out the man he calls “the best rockabilly singer in the world” Big Sandy to join the set. With his thin-lapeled black suit, country boy string tie, and his acoustic guitar tucked high up under his chin, watching Big Sandy perform was like taking a trip back to the 1950s. In a bell-clear tenor warble, he belted out a set of tunes featuring Chuck Berry and Fats Domino covers, along with tunes by his own band the Fly-Rite Boys, all as authentic as a pair of blue suede shoes on a leopard-skin rug. Fine, Fine, Super Fine!
After Sandy left the stage in triumph, RHH cranked it back up into overdrive with fan favorites “Let Me Teach You How to Eat”, “Bales of Cocaine”, and “400 Bucks” which had the whole house singing and shaking along. The band closed their set with a tribute to Lemmy Kilmister – a wholly-unexpected and completely excellent cover of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” Rock on, Lemmy!
But wait, there’s more…
Again, from out of the dark, a curious sound came forth. This time it was the pounding of drums: tribal tattoos followed jazzy riffs, blending into martial snaps which melted into sultry swing. When the lights came up, RJ Contreras was in full-on caveman mode, striking his sticks on anything that would make a sound. He darted about the stage keeping the beat alive on mic stands, amplifiers, Jimbo’s upright bass, even on drink glasses held aloft by audience members in the front row. Without missing a beat, he slid back into his throne and ushered in his bandmates for an all-out encore that included “Martini Time” and two final tunes with Big Sandy, Bill Haley’s “Rock This Joint” and Gene Summers’ “School of Rock and Roll”. Here endeth the lesson.
Final take: Good eats, great tunes, and a pleasant space combined to make this an excellent evening. I’ll be back.