Reverend Horton Heat - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Reverend Horton Heat

Live in Grand Rapids (2016)

live show

I can still clearly remember the first time I saw Reverend Horton Heat. It was way back in 1992 and he was opening for Social Distortion at the historic State Theatre in Kalamazoo. It was probably my first exposure to rockabilly (not counting a couple of Stray Cats hit in the early 80’s). I’ve seen him a handful of times since then and he never fails to deliver a great show. Lately, the Rev has fallen into the pattern of playing annually at The Pyramid Scheme in downtown Grand Rapids. I’ve been going every other year or so, largely depending on the opening acts. Reverend Horton Heat is the rare musician that can tour with country, blues, rockabilly/psychobilly, punk and straight up rock and roll bands.

The openers on Tuesday April 26th were a diverse bunch. First up was Lucky Tubb, great nephew of old-time country legend Ernest Tubb. Lucky plays a very traditional style of country music (think Hank Williams), and even dresses the part. His three piece back-up band is called The Modern Day Troubadours, which is also a nod to his famous uncle (who was known as The Texas Troubadour). The band features stand-up bass, electric and steel guitars. With no drums, the bass and Tubb’s acoustic guitar were left to keep time. The twang in Tubb’s voice was slightly offset by the fact that he sounded like a ten pack a day smoker. The songs were vintage country fare about drinking, cheating etc.. The crowd (myself included) really seemed to enjoy his half hour set.

Next up was Nashville Pussy, a long-time favorite of mine. As a matter of fact, I love their raunch and roll so much that I’ve seen them three years in a row now at the same club. Singer/guitarist Blaine Cartwright mentioned how much he liked the joint, and that they were playing for far more people than normal. Nashville Pussy is a band who can adjust their set to the occasion, and on this night they focused on their slower, bluesier Southern rock stuff. (I prefer the older, faster stuff, but I enjoy it all.) As usual, Cartwright looked disheveled as hell, while his wife and lead guitarist Ruyter Suys was lovely as always strutting around the stage throttling her SG. She squeezed out enough killer riffs and solos to pass for a more attractive Angus Young. Nashville Pussy played a handful of songs from their most recent LP, 2014’s Up the Dosage, including “Everybody’s Fault But Mine”, “Pillbilly” and set opener “Rub it to Death”. At one point Cartwright put his guitar down and they played a pretty straight forward version of The Marshall Tucker Band’s 1973 hit “Can’t You See”. They got to play for an hour, so they had plenty of time to pass around a bottle of Jack Daniels and for Cartwright to drink beer out of his cowboy hat. They wrapped up their set with the (fast) fan favorite “Go Motherfucker Go”. Overall, it was another solid performance from Nashville Pussy.

Unknown Hinson was the highest billed of the openers. Although I’d never even heard of him, a lot of people seemed excited to see him. Some may have been surprised when Reverend Horton Heat took the stage next. He was dapper in his vintage suit, even if he looks a little more like Lyndon Johnson every time I see him. Playing his big, orange, hollow-body Gretsch, he tore through an hour or so of his greatest hits including fan favorite “Psychobilly Freakout”. Then after a two minute break to set up, Hinson joined the band. I did some painstaking research (read his wiki page) and learned that Unknown Hinson is the stage name for the comedic country singer. He might be best known as a voice actor on the Adult Swim cartoon Squidbillies. I suspect I would enjoy this show, but I’ve never actually seen it. Hinson was really something to look at. He was dressed in an old-fashioned, black undertaker’s suit, with jet black hair and eyebrows that would make Martin Scorsese jealous. His features were so exaggerated that it looked like he was wearing a rubber mask. For 20 minutes or so, he sang his (sort of) dirty songs about drinking, cheating etc… It was pretty amusing.

After Hinson left, Jim Heath and the boys went back to doing what they do best. He did play a couple of notable covers. His version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” was a big hit with the audience. He reminisced about a tour with Motorhead and Nashville Pussy before bringing Cartwright out to sing a spirited, crowd pleasing version of “Motorhead”. For the encore, he brought out Lucky Tubb for one last traditional country song. Hinson sang the last song of the evening. It was an upbeat blues number, and he also provided a ripping guitar solo. Reverend Horton Heat is constantly touring, but he manages to change up his shows enough to keep them interesting. He also proves that he doesn’t have much of an ego by graciously serving as the back-up band for other artists. The Rev and company were on stage for just over two hours, and the show didn't end until after 12:30 am. Lots of PBR tallboys and too little sleep made for a pretty rough Wednesday morning, but it was worth it. It was the type of performance that guarantees that I keep showing up every other year or so.