The Reverend Horton Heat treads a fine line between mayhem, musicality, hot rods and the holidays

By Dennis G. Coleman 

December 4, 2017

Horton’s Holiday Hayride skidded to a halt at Charlotte’s Neighborhood Theater on Saturday. This was the second night of a three-week tour on the East Coast. The lineup varies from night to night, but the constants are The Reverend Horton Heat and Junior Brown. On Saturday night they were preceded by The Blasters and Charlotte’s own Belmont Playboys. Both the Belmont Playboys and The Blasters delivered energetic, guitar-driven performances and received a strong response from the crowd.

Junior Brown is an unusual hybrid; he’s part surf guitar, part Link Wray, part Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb (not exactly names that are likely to resonate with audiences outside of Texas and younger than 60). Wearing a blue suit and tie and ten-gallon hat, Brown was the embodiment of a Texas troubadour, looking like he would have been just as comfortable playing a country swing dance.

Junior Brown at Neighborhood Theatre. Photo: Dennis G. Coleman

Brown’s hour set was a honky-tonk study in highways and heartbreak– tales of woe about guys standing by the sides of roads lamenting their life choices and the women waiting for them when they skulk home. True to his troubadour persona, Brown was reserved on stage. He spent minimal time on banter, instead using the hour set to showcase his smooth baritone voice and his stunning guitar playing as he switched effortlessly between two conjoined guitars during songs and even changed their sounds by re-tuning them as he played solos.

Brown’s performance was technical but it was also subdued enough to not cast a shadow on the night’s headliners. Where he kept the energy dialed back, The Reverend took it over the top as soon as they took the stage.

The Reverend Horton Heat ethos is simple: “Rock hard, drive fast and live true.” They occupy a space that is retro kitsch, religious revival and high octane rock n’ roll. On stage the band’s front man, Jim Heath, is a combination used car salesman and Baptist preacher. He’s The Reverend.

The Reverend Horton Heat at Neighborhood Theatre. Photo: Dennis G. Coleman

The Reverend Horton Heat started their hour set with a driving instrumental version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” From that point on, the performance careened through songs and subjects at a breakneck pace, exploring topics like fast cars, booze, meat, mental health and red-nosed reindeer. It was all delivered at a volume and tempo that the Reverend’s devotees have come to expect. Like the other acts, they spent minimal time on small talk between songs, preferring instead to focus on the music.

The Reverend Horton Heat. Photo: Dennis G. Coleman

While The Reverend’s reputation centers on something close to mayhem, they were just as polished musically as anyone on stage that night (perhaps with the exception of Junior Brown). While they drove hard at the core of their trashy, psychobilly souls, underneath their performance was a subtle polished professionalism. The Reverend Horton Heat showed that 30 plus years of performing has made them experts at treading a fine line between mayhem and musicality, chaos and control, hot rods and holidays. This was, after all Horton’s Holiday Hayride.

Check out the remaining 2017-18 tour dates for The Reverend Horton Heat.

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