Will’s NYE Block Party
with Reverend Horton Heat, Jello Biafra, Legendary Shack Shakers
Will’s Pub; Orlando, FL • December 31, 2016
by Jen Cray
New Year’s Eve 2016 was more than champagne, party hats, and proclaimed resolutions for the upcoming 365 days. It was the final nail in the coffin of a year that really needed to be laid to rest. If ever there was a New Year’s Eve to go a little overboard in celebration it was this one. If ever it made sense to spend said NYE at a punk and rockabilly blowout led by the likes of Reverend Horton Heat, Jello Biafra, and Legendary Shack Shakers, it was this time.
With both indoor and outdoor stages, and a bill layered up nicely with hot local bands like The Wildtones, The Smash, and The Woolly Bushmen, it was an unconventional “good riddance!” to 2016 Block Party event brought to Orlando by its favorite neighborhood venue, Will’s Pub.
Not even the fireworks exploding in the distance could pull eyes away from the fantastically bizarre J.D. WIlkes once Legendary Shack Shakers took the stage. Less of a frontman and more of a ringleader in some rockabilly freak show circus, Wilkes is a firecracker of unpredictable energy who manages to also sing and play the harmonica while teasing and tantalizing a crowd into a frenzy. Sure, his habit of reaching down into the depths of his pants, or spitting great fountains of spit into the air can be a tad unsettling, but this isn’t your grandpa’s rockabilly, son. This brand of rockabilly comes soaked in scuzz and drenched in moonshine.
Cleaner, but no less compelling, Reverend Horton Heat are the elder statesmen who ooze cool while inspiring mosh pits to spring up not just in front of the stage, but off to the side and in the line leading up to the porta-potties. Dressed like mechanics from the greaser 50’s, the respected trio launch through a fiery set of westernized surf-abilly that offered the lovely gems “Psychobilly Freakout” and “Jimbo Song” before pausing for a quick setup change that would make this New Year’s Eve truly memorable.
Temporarily handing over lead vocal duties, the Reverend’s Jim Heath concentrated on his Gretsch and allowed Jello Biafra to own the stage. Stepping out in true over-the-top Biafra style, the punk rock legend wore a purple and yellow cape and zebra print fez and stood with outstretched arms for a beat or two to let the image really sink in. The cape was soon pulled off and a shirt updated from an old DK song was revealed, “Nazi Trump Fuck Off” it declared. A 5 song set that included a cover of “House of the Rising Sun” and a pair of Dead Kennedys classics (“Holiday in Cambodia” and “Too Drunk to Fuck”) turned the already rampant crowd on its head. Mayhem, in the best possible way. This was complete release — the expelling of a year’s worth of anger and sadness, being purged and let go, to mingle with the cloud cover of cigarettes and firecrackers.
At midnight Jello returned to the Reverend Horton Heat’s stage, along with J.D. Wilkes, to embrace the New Year with a polk version of “Auld Lange Syne.” It was as weird as it sounds, and yet entirely fitting to start the new year off on a comical note, cause we could all use some laughter.
“We sure do need a happy new year, don’t we?” declared Jello. This night was a damn fine start to it.